How Not to Respond by Email

How Not to Respond by Email

How Not to Respond by Email

It happens on a frequent basis for some. Someone sends you a scolding email pointing out something that you did wrong. Or someone embarrasses you in front of a group of your peers. Whatever the situation, you get wronged by someone at work. It could be a peer, a supervisor or a customer.

Maybe the offense wasn’t that bad. You might have been up half the night with a sick child and be on edge.

But at some point, you snap. Someone pissed you off. And with very little thought and a whole lot of emotion, you reply in kind by email.

Email is a wonderful tool. But it is often misused. Aside from sending inappropriate jokes and personal information on the company email account, people use it as a form of instant messaging, expecting people to check their emails on a real-time bases. People also use it as a replacement for meetings. While I’m not a proponent for excessive meetings, there is a time to communicate by email, and a time to sit down in person. People should stop and think about the most appropriate way to communicate before doing so.

I’ve observed many improper and inappropriate emailing techniques over the years. Here are some of the worst types I’ve seen.

Right back at ya!

Perhaps the most inappropriate email is the flame. Someone sends you a nasty-gram and you fire something off in response. In most cases, people end up regretting their response within seconds of hitting the Send button.

Just because someone was unprofessional enough to let their emotions get the best of them doesn’t mean it is okay. If someone decided to use their power to demean you, firing back at them could also be a career limiting move.

When someone sends you an email that makes you angry, the best approach is to stop. Take a deep breath. Then take another. If necessary, walk away from your computer or your device. You may do something that distracts you from thinking about it. But resist the urge to respond in anger.

Replying in kind not only can make you look bad, you have documented it if the recipient wants to hold it against you. Think of a diplomatic way to respond. Then determine if the response should be in a face-to-face conversation. At least that way it won’t be recorded.

You didn’t get the joke

Sometimes, we don’t realize that how we talk and how we write are different. I have a habit of having a sarcastic sense of humor. People who know me understand it and expect it. It is usually very obvious in the tone of my voice that I’m being sarcastic.

When I write…not so much. Even with the people that know me and my sense of humor, I’ve had misunderstandings.  The tone just comes out differently.

I’ve learned to try to keep it serious and to the point. If I do include humor, sarcasm is hard to convey unless I spell it out. The bottom line is to generally save humor for when we talk face-to face.

Oops, did I hit reply all?

I was involved in a situation once where a former employer sent an email to several managers airing some grievances from his employment. One of the managers, noticing the list of managers on the thread replied to all with a negative comment about the former employee. He forgot that that guy was still on the email.

Reply all can be one of the most dangerous responses if you don’t pay attention to the list of recipients. When there are several on the list, it’s easy to miss that there might be some that you didn’t mean to include.

That wasn’t meant to be included

Email threads can go through several routings.  It can start with an exchange with one person where specific details are shared. Then, someone forwards the email to someone else for their input. If the new recipient reads through the back thread, they may find out details that they shouldn’t be privy to.

This can be private information of one client sent to another, or salary information that is inadvertently sent to someone.

Always take a few moments to think about what you are forwarding in an email. The few seconds you spend could save you hours of aggravation later on.


Email has become one of the most useful tools in the business world. It is also one of the most abused. People forget that anything they send on the company email system is recorded and can be used as evidence if a situation gets serious.

Email is used so regularly as part of our business day that we also tend to get sloppy with our use of it. It can be a useful tool. But users should exercise care with every email they send.

Have you ever sent an email you regret sending?

If you would like to learn more about mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, get Lew and Jeff’s book The Reluctant Mentor on Amazon.

I welcome your questions and comments.

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