We have all been there before. An email comes in that makes your blood boil. Someone got their facts wrong, or accused you of something you didn’t do, or asked a question that just rubbed you the wrong way. Whatever it was about, the email had you fuming.
In this situation, the temptation is to fire back right away, going into attack mode to make things right and quickly get across your point of view.
Whatever you do, resist this temptation. Don’t respond right away. Even if it feels urgent.
In fact, the more annoying the email, the more important it is for you to take time before responding.
As best-selling author and human behavior researcher Tom Rath says, “When you face a brief psychological stressor, it helps to simply hit the pause button in your mind. The more something gets under your skin, causes your heart to race, and makes you breathe a bit more quickly, the more important it is to step back before speaking or typing a single word.”
Remember that an email is in writing and it is forever, so resist the urge to quickly get into a war of words. Taking time almost always brings more clarity of mind, and yields a more appropriate and productive response.
Harvard University neurology professor Rudy Tanzi has outlined a 4-step process to deal with these types of stressful situations:
- Stop yourself from doing what your initial reaction dictated
- Take a deep breath
- Become aware of how you are feeling
- Recall a past event that gave you a feeling of happiness and peace
Bernie Roth, Co-founder of the Stanford Institute of Design, cited this process in his new book about productivity and success, The Achievement Habit. Roth believes that it is only necessary to take the first three steps in most cases, but concludes that “taking a deep breath in any situation never hurts.”
Taking time before responding gives you better perspective on the situation, and will result in a more coherent response. Take a walk around the block, talk to a friend or family member, or do something else to calm yourself down. Give yourself at least an hour before writing back. And it might be best to take it off of email altogether, and instead handle it in person.
Taking a break before responding shows that you can control yourself and have a rational conversation, even when emotions are high. I have definitely been guilty of an all-too-quick response that only made things worse, so now I’ll be trying to think of the steps outlined above instead of hitting reply right away.
An angry email is almost always regretted!