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Best Way to Answer Angry E-mails

What do you do when you get an angry, rude e-mail?  If you respond in-kind, and “yell” back, it just escalates and becomes a lose-lose communication transaction.  E-mails can sometimes be confusing about the intent of the writer – you might not always be able to tell their mood or frame of mind, but you can sure tell when someone is angry or just plain rude.

My wife (an academic dean) is an advocate of answering the e-mail the person should have written.  She ignores the anger and rudeness, and responds to the inherent request or complaint as if it had been written politely!  When the original writer gets her response, they usually reply with an apology; sincere  thanks; an acknowledgement of being understood; or in other words: POSITIVELY.  This completely diffuses the original complaint, and achieves a win-win transaction.

Here’s a brief example as it relates to our industry:

From a Candidate:  “Your organization is unprofessional, and has ignored my application.  I submitted my resume to you last week and no one has called. That is inexcusable! Based on your web site, I expected better.  I expected someone would get back to me.  It is very rude that you haven’t called, as I thought your organization was professional.  I am a perfect fit for this job, and I expected to hear back, and it is shocking that you have not contacted me.  I am offended at the way I’ve been treated.”

Our Response: “Dear Candidate:  I understand how you feel.  Many candidates feel they are a strong fit for the positions we work on, however, the constraints given by our employer clients are much tighter than you would imagine.  We’d love to be able to place everyone, and we’d love to be able to get back to everyone personally, and sometimes it just isn’t possible.  We’ll be happy to keep our eyes open for other opportunities for you in the future.”   If we know it, we also cite the specific reason the person might not have been considered, always expressed from the viewpoint of our employer client.

Try this technique of answering the unspoken, imagined, and more polite version of the e-mail, and shower the angry person with kindness and a rational response, and usually they calm down, forgive and forget, and behave better the next time.