Please Don’t Email Me in that Tone of Voice

image of mailbox on fireIs it just me, or does email make it easier for someone to be rude? I’m not talking about the “Oh, I didn’t get your email” dodge, or the terse “OK” response.

I’m talking about full-on, flat-out rudeness.

Case in point: I serve on the board of my property owners association. It’s a volunteer position, and most of my efforts are limited to taking notes at the quarterly meeting, updating the owner address list, and – along with my fellow board members – ensuring that owners comply with our community’s bylaws when they build new or remodel existing structures.

Recently, one of our owners submitted a request to build a new structure on his property, a request that was denied since the board members felt the structure did not meet the standards clearly outlined in the bylaws. The owner was sent a brief – but extremely polite – email notifying him of the denial and the reasons for it.

What we received in response was an absolutely scathing email, full of accusations of discrimination, attacks on our character (and patriotism for denying the owner “his God-given right” to build on his property), and thinly-veiled threats of legal action against the individual board members and the community as a whole.

I get that the owner was disappointed, and maybe even frustrated. However, I doubt that he would ever think to take that tone during a face-to-face conversation or a phone call.

Maybe he should have followed the advice offered in a satirical piece in The Onion  “Study: All American problems could be solved by just stopping and thinking for two seconds.”

Now that email is the primary vehicle for internal communications in most businesses, I wonder how many “flaming” emails are received on an average day, and what percentage could be eliminated if the author just ‘stopped and thought for two seconds’ before hitting “send.”

My guess: 75%.


About Susan Rink

Susan C. Rink is president and owner of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC ( and a partner in Triple Play Consulting.
This entry was posted in Employee Communications - General and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Please Don’t Email Me in that Tone of Voice

  1. I am so sorry that happened to you 😦 I agree, it would be better to just sleep on an angry email before sending it. It would prevent so many problems.

    David told me a lot of angry responses start with fear and I think that’s a very interesting way to look at it. What hot button was this for the man? What is he afraid of? I’m sure part of him very much regrets responding in this way.

    At least I hope so!

  2. Susan Rink says:

    I don’t know what his particular hot button was. I will tell you that less than 24 hours later (after he apparently consulted the bylaws and perhaps even a lawyer) he submitted a new proposal that was compliant and was approved. But we have yet to get an apology from him for the rude email.

    The sad thing is that, as you know, it’s a small community and somewhat isolated, so neighbors look out for each other. He has made it very hard for me to want to respond if he ever needs my help…

  3. JB Haber says:

    It seems like there are a lot of things people will say (or show) in email that they wouldn’t dare say (or show) in public!

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