How to Write an Effective Email at Work When You are Angry
By: Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC
There is no doubt you have seen a few poorly written emails that resemble verbal vomit from an angry person. While you might even understand their frustration, you in no way want to come across quite as gross. Instead you wish there was a way of communicating your anger that gets results without a trace of verbal vomit. There is.
It is as simple as a fast-food hamburger. Take a moment and think of a fast food place that has a hamburger with meat in the middle and a bun on the top and bottom. Most likely you will not take the bun off the hamburger meat and eat just the meat. Why? Because the meat tastes gross (think fast food, not the good kind of burger), that is why it has the bun to make it more palatable. In fact some buns even have sugar on them to improve the flavor.
Top Bun. The top bun is the fluffy part and is the best place to start. Begin your email with a compliment of sorts such as, “Thank you for your trust in my ability to handle more work.” The compliment does not need to be long, just honest. In the moment of your anger, this might be the hardest part of your email to write but if you can put aside your anger for a few minutes, more than likely you will come up with one compliment. Don’t be sarcastic; sarcasm is suppressed anger and is not effective in the workplace.
Meat in the Middle. The meat in the middle is the issue you need to address. Your next sentence is the bottom line you need to communicate: “I will not be able to complete the project you just handed me because my workload is too heavy.” Resist the urge to over-explain or to address more than one “meat,” instead keep it simple and to the point, remembering to state the facts. Don’t add any emotion to the meat as it will come off sounding like you are whining. This statement might require several revisions before you can accurately communicate the bottom line without any fluff, but it is worth the effort.
Bottom Bun. The bottom bun is another compliment that ties everything together. “I’m sure we can work towards a solution that works for both of us.” This bun is meant to be the base of the whole matter, much like the bottom bun holds up the entire hamburger. Finding a way to work together is at the heart of the matter and from this the other two parts are effectively supported.
This same method can be used to communicate with your spouse, your child’s teacher, your client or anyone who might cause you some frustration. Not only does it work well in emails, it is equally effective verbally. And hopefully you will never look at a fast food hamburger the same way again.