Never send an angry email

In leadership, life by neville

We’ve all done it.

We were angry, pissed off, steaming and outraged. And we sat down and wrote that email (or text), banging on the keyboard feeling good about all the anger that was spilling onto the screen. No holding back, no prisoners, it just feels so good to finally get it out.

And then we sent it.

I’ve done it

I’ve sent angry emails. More than one in fact. Once was in response to an email that I had received from someone else that was biting and sarcastic. I was more than incensed; I was outraged. I was hurt and I felt righteous writing back in the same style. How dare you?

But I made two mistakes.

The first mistakes was copying the email to someone else. I thought that they needed to know about it and had to do something about it.

The second mistakes was sending the email in the first place.

Come in and vomit all over my carpet

These emails are never a good idea. Whether you’re the first in the inevitable chain of emails that follows or you’re reacting to someone else, it just never is a good idea.

Here’s why.

Imagine someone walking into your house. They don’t say hello, they don’t acknowledge you. And then they vomit all over your carpet. And without another word they turn around and walk away.

This is the angry email. You send it or someone sends it to you. The email unloads all of the anger and frustration on the other person. You may feel better for sending the email, getting rid of all the frustration. You’ve vented and the frustrations are out in the open. Of course you’re still angry – the email made you feel better for a bit. But there was no response from the other side. Yet.

Now two people are angry.

Sending the email in the first place made you feel better. At least for a little bit. But you’re still angry. The resentment or frustration you felt is still there – you’ve managed to get some of it off your chest, but nothing about the original cause of the pain and frustration has changed.

So you’re still angry, and the other person is angry too. Sometimes your email or text is a surprise to them, sometimes not. But it’s always unexpected.

Just like someone walking into your house, vomiting on your carpet and then walking out without a further word.

Here’s the problem:

You’ve had the chance to vent and that made you feel better – at least for a little bit. But your anger is still there and the reasons you got angry or frustrated are still there. And now the other person is angry too. The situation has gotten worse instead of better.

We all need to vent

I get angry and frustrated. You do. Everyone does. And we need to vent, spill our anger and frustration and get it out of our system. Sometimes just verbalising the frustration and anger can help us get over it – at least for a little bit.

Sometimes we can vent to a friend or a partner or a spouse. Sometimes we can vent to a colleague with a sympathetic ear (but I would recommend against it). And sometimes we just have to go somewhere where we can be alone and shout at the sky.

If we’re not able to vent, the anger and frustration will build up to the point where we do explode (or vomit) when we least expect it. Usually at a terribly embarrassing time.

So we need to vent, but we don’t have to vomit on someone’s carpet and then walk away. We can write a ghost email.

The ghost email

The ghost email is exactly the one that you want to send to that person. It has exactly the same words, exactly the same things you wanted to say but never felt you could.

But it has an empty “To:” address.

Write your email. Vent, scream or shout the anger or frustration you want to get out of your system. But never, ever put someone’s name in the To address field. Or the CC or BCC fields.

Then leave it for a day. Walk away, go home, try to relax or take a break. Because you’ve had the chance to vent and express your anger, and writing the email is almost totally as cathartic as writing and sending it.

Expect you now have a chance to do something about the situation without aggravating it first.

Every problem will be resolved

Whatever problems we face in our lives, those problems will be resolved in some manner at some point in time. If you’re totally frustrated with your work you may leave. Or they may fire you. If you’re stuck in a toxic relationship it will end – sometimes in a good way, sometimes not that good.

But if we want any chance of resolving a situation, the worst place to start is by making it even worse.

Sending an angry email makes a situation worse before it can get better. Sometimes it makes it so bad that the only way the situation can be resolved is by breaking the relationship.

So if you want something to end in a better place rather than in a worse place, don’t send that angry email. Write the ghost email and let it sit for a day. I’ve written a number of ghost emails. I never felt the need to send them when I came back and looked at them the next day.

And then I had the chance to go and speak to someone with the anger vented and my head a little clearer.

Advice from a friend

A short while after I had sent one of my disastrous angry emails I was speaking to a colleague. He didn’t know about the specifics of the situation but was able to offer advice. He said:

When you send an angry email, all that happens is you now have two people angry. But if you walk into their office and talk to them, chances are you will be able to walk out with the problem solved. Or at least have made a start to resolving it.

These were wise words from an experienced colleague. He said this to me over 20 years ago, and I’ve remembered it all my life. Because I had made the mistake of sending that angry email and had to deal with the consequences. The pain made the lesson memorable.

So the next time you need to write an angry email – or text – do it. But don’t put a name in the To: field. Then walk away for a day, and come back to see if you still want to send it. Chances are you won’t, and you will be able to start fixing things rather than breaking them more. Without having to clean a carpet first.