How to Reply to Negative Emails

It’s impossible to make everyone happy.

What I find interesting with disgruntled clients is that they are much more blunt through email than they would ever dare to be in person. Similar to liquid courage, where people do things they wouldn’t normally do while intoxicated, “email courage” seems to produce the same side effects.

The easiest thing to do when receiving a rude email is to become just as rude in return. I’ve don’t this a few times. It has never gone well. What made matters worse was that these types of emails would bother me for days.

Owning a business for over seven years, I’ve learned that there are more important things in life than rude emails. I’ve learned how to respond in a way that respects the sender’s request without making me feel crap.

Here’s how I do it:

  • Step 1: Don’t reply right away. Rude emails require a high sense of self-awareness. Self-awareness depends on one’s ability to monitor one’s own emotional state and to correctly identify and name one’s emotions. Delaying a reply until you are in control of your emotions is always your best move. (Read the book Emotional Intelligence). This is similar to taking a walk after an argument to “get fresh air.”
  • Step 2: Really listen to the criticism. Once you’ve removed the emotional response from the equation try to read between the lines at what they are really trying to say. Whether we accept the rude delivery method or not criticism is feedback. This could be a great opportunity to turn an unhappy customer into a happy one.
  • Step 3: Remember that the criticism isn’t always about you. Don’t take it personally. They might be having a bad day or bad year. Take the remarks at face value. I try to be understanding while removing all emotion. I maintain a level of empathy without getting too attached to the email. I also don’t focus on who the person is in the email. It allows me to reply in the most non-bias way. When writing a response I imagine writing to a John Doe, who lives in Alaska. It works every time.
  • Step 4: Reply and let go. Once you hit the send button let go completely of the situation. If its someone you have to see again, be sure to follow up with them one-on-one. Until then don’t let a second go by in which you think about the email. Lifes too short to let an email get to you like that. We are in full control of our thoughts and emotions. Nobody can make us feel a certain way. Only we can do that.

Ultimately, this comes down to your skill in conflict resolution (again, read the book Emotional Intelligence). Anyone who thinks they can avoid conflict will have a very difficult time in life. The goal isn’t to run away from conflict rather it is to come to a mutual understanding in which all parties leave the situation respected and understood.

You will know if you have done that correctly after a conflict if you have peace about it. President Ronald Regan said it best, ‘peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”

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