Ask LH: How Can I Deal With Rude Emails?

Ask LH: How Can I Deal With Rude Emails?

Dear Lifehacker, I get a lot of emails at my job. Some messages are very frustrating and unreasonable, but I try to put on my professional email persona and answer them helpfully. The problem is this leaves me feeling really irritated and I dread having to check my email every day. How can I stop thinking about these emails all day and better deal with rude people?Sincerely, Rude Responses

Dear RR,

We know how you feel. Getting (and answering) rude emails is something many of us have to deal with, and it can really ruin the day. Luckily, we have a few tricks that should help you get through those emails without a problem and move on.

Don’t Answer Them Right Away


It’s annoying when someone starts lashing out at you in an email, but it’s even worse when you become the rude one. If you have a tendency to start jabbing back when someone’s rude to you (like I do), flag these messages and skip over them for now. Come back to them after you’ve had a chance to let them sink in and less angry. You’ll stop dwelling on it, send nicer responses and move on with your day more effectively.

It’s also worth noting that unless you have to respond to every email (say if you work in customer service), sometimes you’re better off just ignoring them. Some people are just not worth the trouble and you’ll be able to move on more quickly if you just hit that delete button. It isn’t an option for everyone and every email, but sometimes it’s the best course of action. Photo by Michael Raskop.

Use Text Expansion to Elicit Nicer Responses


One thing that we’ve found particularly effective around here is using text expansion — that is, typing long blocks of text with just a few keystrokes — to respond without having to actually engage myself. All you need to do is create a snippet for rude emails and set it to expand to a message like:

I’m open to hearing what you have to say and having a discussion about it, but I have a policy of ignoring people who take a malicious approach to conversation. I felt something that you said fell under this heading, and if you’d like to try again with a kinder approach, I’d be happy to have a conversation with you.

A lot of people in their fits of anger don’t even realise how rude they’re being with their first message. This type of response can calm the person down, and sometimes it can even result in an apology. Photo by David Francis.

Kill Them With Kindness

Unfortunately, some people are just stubborn and will be a jerk either way. In those situations, the best thing you can do is cool off, answer the email as kindly as you can and move on to your other messages. In these situations, two things are key:

  1. Acknowledge the person’s frustration. Even a simple “I get why this frustrates you” can go a long way.
  2. Solve the problem the best way you can. And, if you can’t solve the problem, explain why you can’t. Perhaps the issue was created to solve another problem, or maybe it’s just out of your hands — in which case, let them know you’ll pass the concerns on but there’s nothing you specifically can do about it at this time.

Again, make sure you’re as polite as possible in these situations, because if you let yourself get angry, you’re giving legitimacy to the person’s rudeness. Text expansion can be pretty helpful here, especially for key phrases such as “I understand your frustration” or “Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do at this time but send your concerns onto my superiors”.

Find a Cool-Headed Email Buddy

The problem with rude emails is that we take them so personally. You can avoid letting them get to you by enlisting a cool-headed friend to help you draft your responses. If you feel you’re having a particularly hard time answering a question in a restrained manner, send a draft over to a friend (who is personally removed from the situation) and see what they say — whether you should send it, tweak it or just let it go. Sometimes, an outside opinion can really clear things up.

When You’re Done, Move On With Your Day

Lastly — and this is the hardest part — you just need to convince yourself that it’s not worth getting worked up over it. We’ve talked about how to stop caring about trolls and get on with your life. While rude emailers aren’t necessarily trolls in the strictest sense, a lot of the same rules still apply. Rude people will always exist, and you’ll never be able to please everyone. Tell yourself that they aren’t worth the energy and get on with your day. You have more important things to do and more important people to help.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • the method that I like to use is one that a friend told me about, which is, Sugar, Salt, Sugar. What this does it makes it show that you acknowledge the persons concerns (regardless of how rude or abusive they might be in the email). Retort back to them (IE: this is how it is). Then (which may not suit all cases) acknowledge their issue again with different wording, usually with the tone and anger removed.

    It is truely amazing the difference that this can make in a heated conversation. My friend who was going through a rough time with her ex over their kids employed this technique for a while and it changed what would normally be a 30 minute argument down to a 5 minute discussion.

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