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I was furious with my client!
He was mad and was accusing me of being incompetent in an angry email. But it wasn’t entirely my fault, most of the blame lay with the delivery company I had used.
My body started to react physically to the angry email: adrenaline flooded my system, my heart gathered speed, my palms began to sweat and my thoughts turned dark.
I was so mad I could no longer marshal my ideas. I started with “How dare you blame me when it wasn’t even my fault!” then I deleted it and typed “I can assure you I am not to blame for this mess!” Then I abandoned my reply; I realised I’d never be able to write my most diplomatic English until I had calmed down.
Remember, when you write an angry email it can be forwarded or even posted online, and even more scary, it can remain in the public domain forever. That thought doesn’t cross your mind though when adrenaline is pumping through your body.
This post will show you how to protect yourself from sending angry English.
Follow these steps and you’ll be able to write something that will make your reader pay attention and end the anger spiral.
1. Do not reply immediately
Read it, close it and don’t be tempted to reply. If you feel a rush of angry words bubbling up, move to step 2 as fast as possible.
2. Let off some steam
Open up a new word document or new email and write the reply you’ll never send. Just let it all out, don’t worry about your English or your manners, let your feelings flow, you’ll feel much better by the end. If you can’t be near your computer, take yourself away for a calming walk, session at the gym or a coffee with a friend.
3. Do your fact-finding
Try to find out why you’ve received the angry email. Ask around. Your intent should be to resolve the situation if it’s within your power. So fix what you can and plan your remedial actions.
4. Craft your reply carefully
You should have calmed down enough by now to respond. Make a plan of what you want to say and choose your words carefully. A well-crafted response will make the reader pay attention.
5. Less is more
When you really want to give your words weight – less is definitely more. There is more power in leaving out qualifiers.
I apologise vs. I’m really really sorry.
I am disappointed vs. I am exceedingly disappointed.
I can’t believe vs. I absolutely cannot believe.
6. Edit, edit, edit.
Remove any unnecessary explanations and excuses. Cut down on the word noise until you have a simple, clear reply. Get someone else to read it to make sure it’s understandable and unemotional.
7. Sleep on it
If possible sleep on it or leave it for a few hours. New information may arrive in the meantime or overnight. Very often you’ll be so glad that you didn’t send either the first explosive email or the second carefully drafted one.
8. Send it
Give your message a final read through, remind yourself that it could get forwarded and copied to other people, and then calmly press send in the knowledge you’ve taken the time to write your best response.
For when you’re wrong
The best policy is to admit you’re wrong and offer a solution. Don’t be tempted to go into a long-winded explanation of why things went wrong. Remember: less is more!
Firstly, let me apologise for + noun – my mistake, my error, the late delivery etc.
Firstly, let me apologise for + verb + ing – arriving so late, keeping you in the dark, delivering the wrong order.
I find speaking as a company is easier than speaking as myself. So I often write in the first person plural.
We would like to apologise for…
I would like to apologise on behalf of my firm. We understand that you are disappointed with the outcome. We…..
For when you want to show some empathy
We know you are disappointed with/upset about the results and we are sorry that things turned out that way.
We understand how upset you are and we are sorry for this.
We can imagine that you were disappointed with/upset by…
For when you want to write clichés but mustn’t
Due to unforeseen circumstances; due to matters out of our control.
Don’t hide behind clichés. Either leave out the reason until you can meet face to face or explain it briefly.
Our delivery company, which has never let us down in the past, couldn’t handle the extra load.
The snow storm of last week meant that one of the people who needed to approve your payment was not able to get to the office.
For when you need to offer a solution
The person at the other end is angry and they need to be placated. You want them to remember you as the person who came up with a solution.
I can offer the following solutions:
I suggest one of two possible solutions:
I suggest we either credit your account or reimburse the sum. [either or]
This is how I suggest we handle the situation.
Allow me to suggest the following solutions. [extremely polite]
Allow me to make the following suggestions. [extremely polite]
For when you want to end with a final apology
I would like to apologise again for what happened.
Once again, please accept our apologies.
I can’t apologise enough for what happened/the late delivery.
Please accept our sincere apologies [extremely polite].
For when you want to end on a high note
We look forward to finding a way to resolve this issue.
We are sure we can work together to find a solution that suits both sides/parties.
We hope that we can continue to work together once we have resolved this problem/issue.
Putting it all together:Dear Mark, Firstly, I’d like to apologise for the mix-up over the deliveries. I can imagine you were disappointed when the brochures didn’t arrive in time for the conference. I know that you invested a lot of time and energy in your event. It seems our delivery company – which has never failed us in the past – could not handle the extra load. I understand the delivery arrived at 4pm, too late to hand out the brochures to your delegates.
I would like to suggest the following solution. We will carry the cost of sending a brochure to each of your delegates. We are happy to send them out from our office if you can supply the relevant contact information. Once again, I can’t apologise enough for what happened with the delivery. I hope that my suggestion will go some way to minimising the damage and I hope that our firms can continue to work together in the future. With kind regards, Sarah
Ever been in the situation where you wanted to send an explosive reply to an angry email? What tactics do you use to stay calm and write a balanced reply?
Give me more!
Want to know more about Email Etiquette – read our How to end emails in English
Find it hard to say you’re sorry – read our So many way to say ‘I’m sorry’
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The many differences between British English and American English…