We all know the feeling – That pit in your stomach you get when one pops up in your inbox. When you get a negative email from a client or coworker, it can be hard to resist the urge to fire back a response. Of course, you want to defend yourself! You can feel the need to correct their assumptions or tell them why they’re wrong. However, there is a right and wrong way to handle a negative email. We’ve received a few in our day, and we’re here to share what we’ve learned. Here are our tips on how to handle a negative email!
(Photo via @wanderabode)
01. Put yourself in their shoes.
Ah, the age-old advice. But hey – It’s age-old for a reason! It works. Before responding to a negative email, take time to really understand where they’re coming from. Imagine yourself in their position, and try rereading their email from that perspective. Are they upset because they feel you’re not holding up your end of a bargain? Or does it have to do with a true misunderstanding or lack of communication? If you can truly understand what prompted them to send a negative email in the first place, you’ll be able to respond from a place of compassion.
02. Recognize their concerns.
The first thing in your response should be something along the lines of “Thank you for bringing this to my attention” or “I completely understand your concern.” People don’t know you care unless you tell them! If you can highlight your understanding in the very first sentence, they’ll be much more open to the rest of your email.
03. Write out everything you want to say, and then edit.
Once you understand where your client or coworker is coming from, write out everything you want to say in a draft. Draft is the keyword here! We find it helpful to remove the “to” email address, juuuuuust in case you accidentally press send. Sometimes just writing out your thoughts can help you make better sense of what you want to say. Once you’ve got it all down, reread what you’ve written and edit, edit, edit. When it comes to responding to an email like this, you really want to just get to the point and move on. If you find yourself bringing up past grievances in your response, remove them. If you go off on a tangent that doesn’t relate to your key point, edit it out.
(Photo via @jeleenka)
04. Stick to the facts.
A lot of negative emails come from a place of emotion. The best thing you can do when responding to one is to stick to the facts. Share where you’re coming from using concrete examples. For example, if a client is upset because they haven’t gotten an update from you on a particular project, share a specific update along with references to dates you’ve checked in with them before. When it comes to how to handle a negative email, it’s all about finding the happy medium between recognizing their frustration and standing your own ground.
05. Have a friend or coworker proofread for you.
Sometimes we can get too caught up in our own heads to know what’s best for us. Before you push send, have a friend or coworker proofread your response for you. They may be able to catch typos or shifts in your tone better than you can. Plus, they may find themselves in your shoes soon, and need you to do the same for them!
06. Send, and don’t dwell.
The last piece of advice we have is to send your response as soon as you can, and then move on. When a client or coworker is upset, they tend to ruminate until they hear from you. The longer you wait to respond, the longer they’re sitting with their grievances. It’s important to respond quickly and effectively to diffuse the situation before it gets worse. Once you’ve pressed send, it’s important for YOU to not dwell, too! Don’t hold on to that negative energy, and immediately put yourself in another task instead of waiting for a response.
There you go! Our top 6 tips on how to handle a negative email. We hope this is helpful, and we hope you don’t have to use it often! Next up, read this handy checklist before sending any workplace email.