How To Respond To Angry Emails: The Right Way To Respond To The Wrong Words
You know that feeling, don’t you? You open your inbox and this one email stands out like it’s emitting a toxic vibe of its own or something. So you read it, and yup, it’s confirmed, that same person who should be busy drowning in his or her endless array of mistakes is actually taking out their anger on YOU! Blaming, insulting, putting you down, or just bullying you into doing something exactly how they think should be done.
So naturally, your first reaction would be to set them straight. You’re a professional; you know how to handle tough situations, and you’re not gonna let anyone, be it a colleague, boss, client or even a friend, make you stoop down to their level. So you muster all your self-control and start typing with specialized, unbiased expertise…
I apologize for the misunderstanding, but I do have a quick question that would help resolve the current problem in a timely manner: ARE YOU ALWAYS SUCH A MORON OR IS TODAY A SPECIAL OCCASION????
Why Can’t We ‘Cage’ The Rage?
I don’t want to cut us too much slack, but honestly, it’s a little bit understandable why it’s so easy to lose your temper in this ‘all-digital’ day and age. According to Mehrabian’s Theory, effective communication of emotions is only 7% related to the words used, 38% the tone of voice, and 55% body language.
Think about it.
A wife ends the conversation with ‘fine’ (a supposedly pleasant word) yet the husband will most probably get a bit scared! Why? Because the implied meaning of the word is totally different! There’s a great deal of intimidation in the way she glares at him, or the way she suddenly starts whisking the eggs so vigorously like she’s having a seizure. There’s so much you can tell from a person’s pitch, attitude, or facial expression.
And now, based on this breakdown, since it’s all in that 7 % of words used, a whopping 93% of the feelings conveyed in an email or text message are lost and can be completely misunderstood. Problems are bound to escalate when we start filling in those percentage blanks with assumptions, preconceived impressions, and dramatic sound effects!
We all do it on some level in real life, too. A driver cuts you off on the road, or a waiter brings you mashed potatoes instead of fries and you just hulk out on them while someone else might simply say ‘it’s no big deal’. The same thing that makes me angry could be something that you easily let slide by. Why is that?
A friend might read the same angry email and say ‘give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they have a point’ and so in addition to being ‘over the rooftop furious’ you’re suddenly consumed with thoughts of finding a shovel to bury your friend in the backyard. Alive!
Now you know me. I’m the ‘Why’ girl. I need to know why things happen the way they do, and what goes on inside people’s heads. So naturally, I’m gonna take you back to basics; the inner core of human psychology.
This way, please….
Why Do We Get Angry?
I actually studied about anger in one of the ‘Psychologies’ and here’s the textbook definition of it:
“Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy human emotion that can also be very destructive.”
Except once you learn about the four types of anger, I think you’ll adjust the exactness of the above phrase a little bit, for anger erupts inside you like a volcano in times of:
- Integrity: A.K.A the most honorable type of anger, which is probably the only ‘healthy’ type, when we’re angered by injustice, oppression or a breach of trust or morality. Anger that has a beneficial goal is usually automatically controlled and directed towards the right purpose.
- Fear: Yes you read that right. We get angry when a weakness is triggered and we’re afraid someone might see it, so we mask it with anger.
- Pain: You could be sad, lonely, worried, hurt, frustrated or tired, yet use anger as a substitute emotion because the truth is, it feels better to be angry than to face emotional pain.
- Insecurity: If anger makes us feel in control then we’ll never be motivated to control our anger. It’s sometimes used as a self-defense mechanism to regain power; or more accurately, the ‘illusion’ of power.
Fortunately, the first type of anger can be very productive, especially when it compels you to speak up against injustice or uphold your morals. An angry email dripping of discrimination or oppression is seldom something we can just let ‘slide by’. If that’s the case, then by all means, please be angry. Stand up for your beliefs, morals, rights and the rights of others. History proves that healthy anger has conquered racism, dictatorship, and abusive slavery.
But now the tricky part is, ‘Anger’ is the King of ‘Hide and Seek’; it’s so good at hiding your real emotions away and tricking you into seeking aggressive reactions instead. It’s not always a matter of ‘righteousness’; sometimes it’s plain ‘egotism’.
For example, you could immediately get enraged by a harsh-worded email from your boss because deep down perhaps you’re worried he’s implying you’re not good enough, and you unconsciously believe being infuriated is better for your ego than facing your fear. It makes you feel bigger and more in control of the situation. In other words, anger is triggered according to our own personality traits and self-esteem. A competitive person might get infuriated a lot easier in ‘win and lose’ incidents than someone who isn’t.
I could give you more examples, but you get what I’m trying to say, right? Sometimes the anger is a reflection of an inner problem, and our angry responses are just personal assessments of emotional situations, which is what psychologists refer to as ‘cognitive appraisals’.
You’re shaking your head, aren’t you? I know, it’s not enough…
The over-analytical psychopathology won’t help when you’re reading an angry message or email where the antagonism is so palpable and the ill-willed vibe is so vivid you could cut it with a knife! It’s usually involuntary, too, for the more you read, the more your nostrils flare up, your veins pop out and your blood boils like lava.
In that case, we obviously need a new game plan. Forget the ‘why’ for now and let’s look at the ‘how’.
How To Deal With Anger: The Right Way To Respond To The Wrong Words
Here are the golden rules. Memorize them. They’ll save you from a lot of very ugly scenes in the future, trust me!
- Never reply to an angry message or email on the spot. Step away from the keyboard and take your time.
- Can you breathe? If yes, then please take a few deep, cleansing breaths. If not, then proceed to step 3.
- When anger reaches a certain boiling point, it’s too late to go back. So go take it out alone in a safe environment. Write your angry response down on a piece of paper. Go for a walk, punch an innocent pillow, scream or cry it out. Whatever works as long as it doesn’t harm you or anyone else.
- Come back and read the email again. Check your emotions. Are you still angry? If the answer is yes, then please repeat step 3. Take all the time you need. That’s the good thing about digital interactions, there’s no rush, you can respond whenever it’s convenient for you.
- Now that you have a clear mind, read the email again, being mindful of the ‘cognitive appraisals’ we’ve talked about earlier. Is it really so bad? Are you reading too much into it? If you’re still apprehensive about the whole thing, then cut down to the chase and request a face-to-face meeting or even a phone call. One of the main secrets to effective communication is sharing your feelings, and fulfilling the need to be heard and understood.
- If some human interaction isn’t possible, then it’s time to get crafty with some basic psychology technique to dissolve people’s anger, called the ‘Positive Sandwich”:
a) Start your response on a positive note, validation of anger or an apology. “I understand why you’re frustrated. You have every right to feel that way….”
b) Explain your side as briefly as possible, without making your opinion sound like a given fact.
c) Don’t hit the ‘reply-all’ button until you’ve tried to resolve the matter privately first. It takes the heat off the ‘ego game’ and is certainly much more professional.
d) Always, always, ALWAYS end your message on a positive note. The ending is what we all remember the most; it’s what makes a good book, a good vacation or a good argument. Always end your email with a few pleasant words.
e) Proving you’re right isn’t all that satisfying if it costs you your peace. Look at the bigger picture, and try to reach a middle ground.
You know, science has proven time and time again that controlling your angeractually rewires your brain into becoming a better, more compassionate person. But let me first answer the final question that’s probably lingering in your mind now: “Doesn’t this make me a pushover?”
Ummmm definitely NOT! It makes you mature and wise and smart. It makes you a real professional. It builds you a solid ‘sterling’ reputation and it’s everything you need to invest in good, healthy, long-lasting relationships.
Responding to anger with more anger is like using fire to put out the fire, it doesn’t work. It will just keep on blazing and will eventually burn everything around you. We need empathy, compassion, maturity, and control. You need water to put out the fire of anger. But if you can’t do that, then at least don’t respond.
Ibn ‘Abbas reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Teach and make things easy and not difficult. When one of you is angry, he should be silent.” [Al-Adab Al-Mufrad]
Follow our beloved Prophet’s advice and stay silent when you’re mad. Sleep on it and wait for the storm to pass by. The fire won’t burn forever; it will eventually turn to ashes.
Deep down you already know that. It’s the ‘swallow your pride’ part that we all have problems with.
Just remember, rage will never make you extraordinary, but intelligent patience will.
Oh, it so always will….