As communication has become more immediate, it is also increasingly casual. Receiving emails that are overly aggressive or written in an inappropriate tone are situations that many people encounter within the workplace. Whether it is a message from a team member or a direct report, it is important to be conscious of how to respond to these situations to remain professional while upholding boundaries.
Here are some steps to help navigate responding to an unprofessional email:
- Maintain Composure
An initial reaction to an aggressive or rude email is often anger or frustration. It is important to recognize and refrain from acting on this initial response. Taking deep breaths to calm down or even stepping away from the situation and finding a distraction for a few minutes can help to de-escalate initial reactions.
After regaining composure, reread the email to see if the message still seems inappropriately aggressive. If the message still seems overly harsh, identify the elements that are concerning from the actual context of the message. This will help to complete a more objective analysis of the email and allow for a more constructive response.
2. Consider the Method of Response
Depending on the sender of the email, a response may be most appropriate over email, the phone, or in person. If the sender is someone who works nearby, approaching them in person may be the most effective method to handle the situation. Over email, messages can be misinterpreted and words that seemed harsh may not have had that intention. Talking things out can prevent any miscommunications that result from written communication.
The relationship with the sender may also help determine the most appropriate means of communication. If the sender is a direct report, an in-person meeting to discuss the aggressive message can help to convey the severity of their actions and deter them from communicating with this tone in the future.
3. Establish Clear Boundaries
When dealing with inappropriate emails, it is crucial to communicate boundaries to prevent these issues from occurring in the future. Clearly and assertively articulating areas of discomfort and that this type of behavior is unacceptable. Be concise and specific about what is inappropriate within the message.
Establishing boundaries is an important step to communicate that their tone is not welcome in future messages, however, avoiding escalating the situation is crucial during this step. Communicating with a polite tone can help to prevent the sender from feeling attacked. Discussing the message itself rather than targeting the sender when criticizing the tone can prevent them from feeling the need to be on defense during this conversation.
If the best method of communication is emailing, proofread any response before sending it. Ensuring that there is a neutral tone, concise sentences, and no redundant information will allow the recipient to clearly understand any response.
Maintaining a professional tone is vital because the situation can quickly spiral out of control if there is inappropriate communication on both sides. Responding aggressively or passive-aggressively may further validate the sender's feelings and encourage them to continue this unprofessional tone going forward.
5. Document the Interaction
It is essential to document this interaction in case aggressive emails continue in the future. Save copies of the emails with headers and time stamps as evidence of this interaction. This documentation will be beneficial to submit to supervisors or human resources if the aggression continues. Keeping evidence will help to maintain a clear timeline of events and ensure that these interactions aren’t lost.
When documenting the interaction, also ensure to document how the situation was handled. Saving any emails that were sent in response to this inappropriate email can help to document instances in which boundaries were set and communicated to the sender. This way if the sender continues to act unprofessionally, there is a record that they were told that this behavior is unwelcome.
6. Seek Support
Don’t hesitate to seek support if the inappropriate behavior persists. Reaching out to colleagues, supervisors, or human resource professionals to share concerns can be a helpful resource. Horizontal mentorship
groups can also serve as a beneficial resource to gain insights from others who have encountered similar situations. Having this support system can help to navigate this difficult situation and introduce an outside perspective. Additionally, reaching out to these outside individuals within the firm may allow others to find a resolution.
When seeking support, it is incredibly beneficial to have the documentation available to show them. This will allow these outside resources to have a better understanding of the situation at hand and allow them to provide more direct support as they are aware of what was specifically said.
7. Learn and Improve
The final step when dealing with an inappropriate email is to learn from the interaction. After addressing the inappropriate behavior, the next response can be used to gauge the effectiveness of how the behavior was addressed. This can help to improve personal communication skills going forward. Take note of what worked and what may have been unsuccessful to identify areas for improvement going forward.
Although difficult to navigate, these interactions can serve as a great opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth. Evaluating how personal communication contributed to the de-escalation of the situation can serve as a beneficial tool for any difficult situations that arise in the future.
It is important to consider inappropriate messages on a case-by-case basis. The relationship with the person, their position within the firm, and the context of the email, may warrant different responses. The context of the email is particularly important to consider because in some cases, a frustrated email may not entirely be inappropriate.
For instance, if a team member completed their portion of the project, but the remainder of the project was not completed by the deadline. In this scenario, the team member may be frustrated and rightfully so as they upheld their responsibilities. Validating their emotions and owning up to mistakes may be critical aspects of responding to an email in this capacity.
When dealing with an inappropriate email, there are many things to consider when assessing how to respond. The most important thing to remember when handling these difficult situations is to remain professional and consider what can be done to prevent this behavior from persisting going forward.