Flaming Emails: When You’re the Victim

I’ve been working on something for about eight months now: knee-jerk reactions. I’m French, I’m big on people being nice to each other, and I get upset very quickly when I think someone is treating me like crap. We Quebecois don’t call the sudden boiling up of anger a knee-jerk reaction, of course. We like to call it passion. It’s the politically correct term.

If you want to light a firecracker under my chair, send me a snappy, rude email that unjustly criticizes something after two weeks of inbox silence. Want to go one step further? Change the goalposts. Pick on something that we’d previously agreed on that has changed – I should have been a mind reader. Even worse? Add on a reprimand that something I delivered four weeks ago is no longer acceptable because the goalposts changed yesterday. When I correct the situation, change the goalposts again. Still not enough? Insult me. Then insult my teammates.

Pack all that together, and the result will be one indignant Frenchman ready to slam out a knee-jerk reaction reply.

I’m working on that. A professional, calm tone and unruffled feathers is a must when you’re in business. It’s tough when your blood is boiling and you’ve just been the victim of a flaming email.


Harry wrote a post once, about how he felt the customer isn’t always right. At the time, I bit my tongue. I’ve worked in customer service far too long to believe that it isn’t my duty to satisfy a customer 110%. It is. That’s why I had to learn not to rise to the occasion when people were rude (and people frequently are). Here are some tips to avoid an unthinking reaction that work for me:

  • Walk away from the computer for at least an hour. Don’t reply to the email, don’t answer a thing. Go change your mind with something else.
  • Vent on a friend who is willing to listen without giving advice. Sympathy is great.
  • Write out how you feel and why you’re angry. Save the document and look at it after 12 hours have passed. It’ll sound silly.
  • If you have to give a reply right away, just answer, “Thank you. Let me get back to you on that.” Don’t commit, agree or disagree. Just let the person know you’ll look into the situation and write nothing else.
  • Try to understand the other person. If someone is upset, there is a reason. The faster you discover it and resolve the problem, the faster the situation settles down. Focus on solutions, not your anger.
  • When the time comes for a better reply, never write emails with lengthy explanations and justifications. Stick to dealing with the heart of the matter and not your own feelings.
  • Be fair at all times and try to compromise. Give a little, and you’ll get back a lot.
  • Stay polite and professional. Watch your tone and keep it smooth and cool.
  • If you can’t deal with the situation with a cool head, delegate the task. Better to have someone calmer deal with the issue than make things worse.

So, here I was, indignant, insulted and flaming mad over a really rude email that insulted me and my team. I pinged Harry on IM and ranted for over half an hour. He listened and nodded. I wrote a letter to the client that I never sent. I deleted it. I started a blog to vent in writing and deleted that too. I responded to the client: “Thank you. I’ll look into that.”

Then I walked away from the computer. I made some Play Doh dinosaurs. Our home hosted a wedding, that of Robin Hood (me) and Maid Marion (my charming, demanding toddler – since when did she ever haul off and drag Robin into marriage?). Friar Tuck (a svelte teen who will soon be joining a nunnery, if I have anything to do with it) blessed the union. Life was good.


And today? It’s another day. Cheers 🙂

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.