Email on Fire – Dealing with Electronic Venom

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We all receive those emails that make your blood boil.  You know the ones – they are the email equivalents of someone giving you the bird, flipping you off, kicking sand in your face, insulting your mother.  What inspires people to send electronic venom?  And why do they copy so many people?  No doubt, this will show up on my performance review.

Flame mail is almost always very direct, “You committed to completing the project on time and you didn’t so I had to stay up all night for a week.  I will never work with you again”.  Or, “Your writing is like dog poop on a shoe, I can’t get rid of it but wish I could.”

Other flame mails are more subtle, but are still on fire because they imply incompetence, lack of ethics or are accusatory.  On the subtle ones, the CC list is the thing to watch.

If you are the recipient of one of these emails you might feel defeated or start thinking about payback. You might start daydreaming of gouging someone’s eyes out or want to cry, because just one mean email can ruin a day.  Maybe even a career.  The blood boils and you are ready for immediate war. But wait. With flame mails you don’t have to respond in the moment.  You can think about how you want to respond to the jerk and you have three options:

  1. You can ignore the flame mail. Your feelings may be hurt but to not engage may be smart.  Even though you will keep going back to message and rereading it; each time it will get a little easier to ignore it.   Create responses but don’t send them.  Another variation on this option is to not respond and vow to get even later.
  2. You can blast back with the same venom as the sender. Go ahead be nasty.  Use words like putrid and pond scum as necessary.  Use veiled threats if need be.  Chances are good you will regret this option when Human Resources calls.
  3. You can be professional, think about an appropriate response and send it a day or two later. Words and phrases like “sorry” or, “it is not necessary” can always help with this option.

It’s always best to take that minute before hitting the send button.  Fast retaliation may feel good but usually only make things worse.  Leave retaliation and escalation to others.

What is the worst flame mail to come across your screen?

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