Here’s How to Write an Angry Email

Short answer

Feel free to write an angry email any way you want. Just never send it.

Long answer

At some point in our professional career, we all would have received an email to which the first impulse would have been to respond with some spicy unparliamentary words. But then good judgment would prevail and we would refrain ourselves from doing so.

Or, we might have just said ‘heck with it‘ and sent the ‘angry email’ anyway.

I have done both. The latter, probably a couple of times when I was a much more insane person. Now that sanity prevails, I ensure my impulses don’t get the better of me.

Over the years, as a communications professional, I have trained people on how to write better emails. This includes cold emails that require responses, emails providing critical feedback, and even emails that have been used as proof in legal proceedings.

From this experience, and having learnt things the hard way, here are a few tips on how to avoid landing in trouble when you feel like writing an angry email.

Write it. Leave it.

Imagine this. It’s Monday morning and you have just reached your workplace with a hot cup of cappuccino. You open your mail and up top is an angry email from a client who blames you for his team’s incompetency.

Trying your best to not go into Hulk-smash mode, your blood boils and your fingers itch to type up a fiery response. But what do you do instead?

You take some deep breaths, calm yourself and try your best to let better judgment prevail. If that doesn’t work, do the following:

  1. Open a word document.
  2. Write your fiery response. Forget grammar and sentence structure. Just write whatever comes to your head.
  3. Once done, lock your computer and take a break. Go for a walk or go get another cup of coffee.
  4. When you are back, delete the word document and carry on with your life.

I understand that at times it is humanly impossible to control your anger/judgment. And hence this option.

Write whatever you feel like at that moment. But just make sure you never send it.

Read it out loud

Most of the time, things sound different in real life as compared to how it sounds in our head.

Hence, especially when you are feeling worked up, read out loud what you have written. If your mind doesn’t tell you what sounds wrong, your ears definitely will.

Here is an example. Last week, I was amidst discussions around a project I work on within a non-profit. Most of these discussions were over email. Upon receiving a rather ‘cliched’ idea which I didn’t believe would work with our audience, the first response I typed up was:

Yeah right. As if that’s going to work. Aren’t we forgetting what exactly our audience needs?

Needless to say, I was in an irritable mood while writing this response. Upon reading it out loud, my ears told me the hard truth of how rude it sounded. Thus, I changed it to:

Thanks, but I am not so sure about it. Especially if we consider our audience’s fields of interest. Though I am sure we can work on it to suit our audience better.

See the difference!

From sounding like an arrogant no-gooder who’s crushing others’ ideas, I moved lanes to a more accommodative person, who still voices his opinion.

emails are bad at conveying tone

Seek advice from a friend or colleague

A couple of years back, I had a very racist manager. Finally, when I could take it no more, I wrote up an email to HR and got it reviewed by my friend. I couldn’t be objective in writing that email and hence made sure that I had an additional pair of trustworthy eyes go through it.

He actually suggested quite a few changes on how to maintain a professional tone and not give in to emotions while writing something sensitive. While I eventually did not send an email to HR (got news that the manager was about to be fired anyway), it did serve me as an important reminder to seek advice from someone else, when in doubt.

Do the same yourself. When in doubt, seek advice. It is better to seek advice than to be sorry later about something you wish you could take back.

Pick up the phone and call them

I am actually amazed at the number of people who actually don’t do this.

No matter how subtly, humbly, or meekly you write an email, there is no guarantee as to how the person on the other end is going to perceive it. While emails are good at delivering content, they are absolutely the worst option in conveying tone.

And tone is supreme in every conversation.

If you think that sending emails would only make matters worse, or not convey the actual meaning, just pick up your phone and give the person a call. You will be amazed at how sooner you can reach a resolution (provided both of you talk like sensible human beings).

And if you actually do send an email…

In spite of my ill-fated suggestions if you still do decide to send an email, at least keep the following pointers in mind.

1. Keep it concise and professional

Keep your email short. Do not go on rambling about whatever it is that you want to convey or have an opinion about.

2. Offer a solution

Instead of dissecting the problem, start focusing on the solution. It is always the best option for everyone involved.

Stop pointing fingers and start looking for answers.

3. Include some optimism

Yes, optimism can be hard to come by when you are in Hulk-smash mode. But let better sense prevail. Let the person know that you appreciate their effort and that you are happy to look for solutions together.

4. Offer alternate means of communication

If email is definitely not the best way to approach the concern, offer an alternate means – a phone call, Zoom meeting, or even a face-to-face catch-up. You’ll be amazed at how non-confronting people become when they talk directly to a person, instead of over emails.

5. Definitely end on something positive

Along with the tinge of optimism, ensure that you end your email with something positive. People always remember the last conversation they had, or the last thing said to them. Similarly, the last sentence of your email defines the overall tone of what you are saying.

The final test

As the final test before sending an ‘angry email’, I always ask myself – how would I feel if this email was printed on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper?

I hit ‘send’ only if the answer is “My mom wouldn’t hate me for it.

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Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Vijay S Paul

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Caron Dann

Excellent advice, Vijay, especially regarding how different people may be in person, to what they are on email. This advice could also be applied to social media comments. I always am amazed at how quickly people write angry, biting comments that lead to online clashes.

Rajiv Ambat

Excellent Article Macha. Been there, done it, I could relate to a lot of things you are mentioned here… 🙂