There are some people who regularly resort to sending angry emails -- every organization seems to have at least one employee who is part troll -- but even otherwise calm and measured people can slip into this mistake occasionally. And this is a mistake. Sending angry emails can have negative effects that go beyond the obvious.
ANGRY EMAILS ARE NOT EFFECTIVE. A polite and respectful email is much more likely to achieve results than one that is angry and perhaps disrespectful, both in the short term and long term. Other people are always more co-operative with someone who treats them well and they will feel a stronger commitment to your goal when you ask nicely. Remember that at the end of the year when your results are being evaluated and rewarded nobody will ask you how many email battles you won. All they care about are the business goals and results you were expected to achieve; winning email battles actually gets in the way of the real objectives.
ANGRY EMAILS INCREASE STRESS. There's an interesting exercise you can try one day when you are very calm: sit down and try to write an example of a hostile email. What you will discover is that even writing just an example email never intended for sending makes you feel uncomfortably stressed, a fact I discovered once just preparing examples for an email workshop. By deciding to send only calm, polite and respectful mails you reduce the stress levels of the people around you and you reduce your own stress. When someone resorts to hostile emails everybody suffers, including the sender. Increased stress is by itself a problem and can lead to a higher staff turnover. It also impacts performance negatively.
ANGRY EMAILS CAN EMBARRASS YOU. If ineffectiveness and stress are not sufficient reason to avoid sending angry emails, consider that they can also come back to embarrass you in a very public way when they are given a circulation broader than you intended. Before you send a mail ask yourself how you would feel if it went viral on social media or if it were published in major newspapers. This is a genuine risk. Ask Neal Patterson, who as CEO of the Cerner Corporation in March 2001 famously sent an angry email to company managers who leaked it to media. The resulting media storm caused the company's stock to fall 22%. This tale is immortalized in the Wikipedia biography of Patterson and lives on in the archives of media in articles like the New York Times' A Stinging Office Memo Boomerangs; Chief Executive Is Criticized After Upbraiding Workers by E-Mail. More recently executives at Sony Pictures were also embarrassed when hackers stole and published internal emails never intended for the public. As Rory Carroll warned in the Guardian article Sony Style Hack Attack Could Happen Anywhere this is a warning to all companies: this could happen to anyone and your snarky, childish mails might end up on Reddit. Facebook and Twitter for everyone to read.
There is a very clear lesson here that you should never be writing or sending angry emails. There are many techniques for avoiding this, some of these are already mentioned in Three Tips for responding to Angry Emails but there are many more and this will be the topic for another post in the not-so-distant future. If you have a management role you should also be watching that none of your subordinates make this mistake. Let it be clear to everyone in your organization that email wars are an unproductive waste of time and should never be started or continued by anyone in your team.
Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing
For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about email -- especially global email -- and other communication topics you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475. There are also outlines of selected lectures and workshops on my website http://andrewhennigan.com