Be cautious in your emails

Aug 9, 2011Work Uncaged, Write!

I wrote a diatribe once, based on hearsay. I hate that I did that, and I’m embarrassed to admit it here stark on the page. I heard some things about an acquaintance, then forged forward in an email to share what I thought. I didn’t think twice. I didn’t censor the email. I hit send.

The moment I did, I wanted to take it all back. Regret flooded through me. What was I doing? I felt in the moment that my email would serve as a discouragement to this person, and I felt sick inside.

God apparently knew my stupidity and saw fit that the person NEVER received the email. It got gloriously lost in cyberspace. And for that I am grateful.

But I’ve sent emails I’ve regretted. Have you?

I also receive emails that, once I read them, I realize that the person sending the message will one day regret what he/she wrote. Typically these center around my writing–maybe a blog post that offended, or a book that bothered someone. The diatribe is usually painful to read. My immediate response is to want to justify myself or retaliate, but I’m learning to step back, reassess. And now I have an Advisory Board who will screen those emails and give me detached feedback as to how I should respond.

It’s interesting to me to sift through emails where the intention is helping versus slamming. I’m certainly not afraid to receive feedback about my work, and I welcome correction. But when things come to me in a spirit of anger or spitefulness, I feel like a scolded child and want to crawl in a hole. Have you ever felt that way?

Here are 5 ways to deal with painful emails:

  • Before you respond angrily to an email, let it sit. Don’t respond right away.
  • If the message is still bothering you, eliminate the sender’s name and send the email to an objective friend and ask how she/he would respond.
  • Sometimes the best thing you can do is permanently delete a mean spirited email. LET IT GO.
  • Remember that an angry email may not be about you at all, but about the person’s own pain. Thinking of it that way lessens the feeling of attack, and it gives you empathy for the sender.
  • Consider that even though the message may be harsh, there could be a strong kernel of truth in there that God wants to highlight.

Here 5 ways you can write emails you won’t regret:

  • If you’re laboring over how to respond and you don’t feel the words are right, ask your spouse or a good friend to read your note first.
  • If in doubt about how your tone is in the email, pick up the phone and call the person you’re in conflict with. Or arrange a face to face date, if possible. Things can quickly escalate online, but misunderstandings are best figured out in person.
  • Does the note reflect how you would like to be treated in an email?
  • Ask, “How would Jesus write this email?”
  • Instead of hitting SEND, print off the email and place it in your Bible for three days. Then read again and decide if it’s necessary.


What about you? What’s your advice for handling painful emails or writing emails you won’t regret? Or do you have an email story to share?