Don’t Send That Angry Email: Avoiding Office Conflict

“Don’t Make Decisions When You’re Angry. Don’t Make Promises When You’re Happy.”

I have tried my best to live by this anonymous quote—but everybody makes mistakes sometimes. Last week I had an unfortunate experience of trying to move large pieces of furniture through narrow spaces. After pivoting, wedging, and shoving for what felt like hours, I was reaching a boiling point. I hated the hallway, I hated that I couldn’t out-think the situation, and most of all—I wanted to punch IKEA and their “simple” furniture solutions in the face.

It was at that point that my sister called me. She didn’t catch me at my finest and when she delivered some slightly bad news, the dam ruptured. I was unnecessarily snappy over something that really wasn’t a big deal in the slightest. This was the time I should’ve chanted the mantra above.

“Sending a message is instantaneous, and personal anger has no time to settle and be reflected upon”       -Martin Bjergegaard

We’ve all had those moments, and the worst is when they happen at work. Something gets you really worked up, and then (thanks to modern technology) it is so easy to just write an angry email and shoot it to someone. Except instead of solving problems, minor errors become large office conflicts.

Martin Bjergegaard, a thought leader in Scandinavian work-life balance, strongly advises everyone: “Don’t send that angry e-mail”. Back before the internet, if you wanted to retaliate against anything, you had to sit down and write a letter. As you vent your anger, you get most of it out of your system and by the time you’ve finished, you’re most likely reconsidering sending the letter in the first place. It’s not like that with email. Sending a message is instantaneous, and personal anger has no time to settle and be reflected upon. As Martin says, “one click, and without a chance to change one’s mind, the mail hits the recipient in the face like a clenched fist.”

Angry Email quote

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However, there are times that mistakes happen and they need to be dealt with. This however doesn’t justify instantaneous combustion via emails. Martin’s book Winning Without Losing is made up of strategies he learned through interviewing successful entrepreneurs who practice work-life balance, and one of his sources had a great method for dealing with scenarios just like this:

1. Write the Email and Think: 

Think carefully about what you believe to be fair and unfair – try to put yourself in the recipient’s place. Might his or her experience of the facts be different from yours?

2. Don’t send just yet:

When you’ve written the email, do not send it. Instead, do the following:

  • Think about whether it’s possible to meet with the recipient face to face instead and talk about it. If so, then do it.
  • If a face-to-face meeting is not possible, then read through your email again and remove any text which has no forward-looking purpose, but is only meant to provoke or to make yourself feel better.
  • Get someone else to read the email and comment on it honestly – and get that person to put himself in the recipient’s shoes.

3. When they respond

If, despite your attempts at toning down your communication, you get an angry email in return, then refrain from participating in escalating the office conflict. Now is the time to calm things down again, and that’s your responsibility. Get the person on the phone or meet them face to face.

This method is very useful in the office, and its principles can be applied to everyday life. If I had just taken some time to evaluate the situation, I could’ve avoided having to take time to rightfully apologise for my unnecessary outbursts. I could’ve spent that precious time finding a silver lining to my new life problem: What are the benefits of having a lopsided closet permanently wedged in my hallway?

Philip Trampe
10 Sep 2014

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