How to Reply Professionally to a Rude Email and Cover Your Ass

As long as you are going to be in business, you are going to get emails from people with an attitude. Sometimes customers, co-workers, or partners can demand information from you without even asking nicely, without using basic manners like “Can you please” and “Thank you.”  Besides, you will get people telling you how you should be running your business, and what you are doing right now is wrong. Also, you will get the odd email from some person who is offended by everything in their life. And while we cannot stop these emails from coming in from people, there are some things that you can do to save yourself a lot of trouble and remain professional in complicated situations.

Steps before hitting a reply to an angry email

Maybe you are lucky to have friendly co-workers and great customers, but anyone can come up against a moment when you need to decide how to respond to a nasty email.

#1 Breath in before dealing with rude customers or co-workers

So here it is, the rude, unprofessional, and angry message in your inbox. Of course, you can choose to blow off some steam and immediately reply to your “offender.” But before you take any rash decision, stop and think this through. Is this situation worth your time and energy? How will it affect your professional image? What difference does it make if you've never replied to this email? Remember that one of the advantages of emails is that you don’t have to answer immediately. So let your temper calm down first and plan your answer carefully.

#2 Ensure that you interpreted the rude email right

sarcasm or rudeness

Reread the letter to make sure you got it right. Sometimes jokes, sarcasm, and some cultural differences may be interpreted as rudeness. Besides, you might need to check if your colleagues have already dealt with this person. Perhaps, this style of communication is caused by some bad experience with your company.

#3 Define sender's intent

Imagine that you’ve just read the following sarcastic message from your director: “John, I hope you spare some time from your busy schedule to get the brochures done today!” No matter if you are upset or boiling over with rage, never reply by asking something like “What are you trying to say?”,”What’s that supposed to mean? I finished them a long time ago!” Instead, keep calm and ask your boss for more information: “All of the brochures are done except the one that due on Friday. Do you need me to finalize it sooner?"

#4 Consider ignoring a rude email

As I've already mentioned above, sometimes it’s better to ignore an angry email to save time and energy. If you are dealing with rude customers and cannot afford to ignore their complaints, be patient and always remain professional. Often, customers don’t bother to read a user guide, a software license agreement, or any other information available on your website, but they got angry and frustrated because of your “terrible” product and may take it out on you by email. In this case, it’s a good idea to take some notes about what these people are saying so that you can either add that information to a Frequently Asked Questions page or create a separate post around it so that you are always directing customers to those pages.
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#5 Make a copy of the rude email

While it’s clear how to behave with unkind, aggressive clients, it may be not easy to deal with rudeness in the workplace. When your colleague’s email seems rude and disrespectful to you, it can be hard to know how to respond. Here are some tips on dealing with rude co-workers:
Don’t be rude in response. Usually, the provocateur expects to receive your quick reaction.  Will you give him the kind of satisfaction? Remain calm and professional or simply ignore the message. When the answer doesn’t arrive, you let the sender suffer.
If the rude, offensive emails continue to come in, be sure to save them to be used in evidence.

#6 In case of harassment share it with HR

Check the received email for abusive language. If the message contains harmful speech or personal attacks, don’t hesitate to talk to your manager or HR.

#7 Check if the email is cc'd

ccd

When responding to nasty emails, be careful and remember that not every email is private. First of all, ensure that no one is cc’d on this email. However, keep in mind that there might be a BCC hidden somewhere or the recipient can forward your answer to someone without your knowledge. Therefore, it is important to leave emotions out of your response, because it should not reflect poorly on you.

How to respond to a nasty email

#1 Follow email netiquette

Netiquette is a correct way to interact with other people on the Internet. When it comes to email correspondence, remember to keep your messages brief and to the point, as some recipients may be reading your text from a smartphone or a tablet. Mind your grammar and spelling to avoid misunderstanding. Avoid using all capital letters in your emails, as they are often perceived as shouting. Don’t send abusive or threatening remarks, because they can result in hard feelings.  And include a professional email signature that contains your phone number, which will make it more convenient for the recipient to reach you if they need to speak to you in person.

netiquette emails

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#2 Clarify details

Are you sure that the person meant to be rude? Some people are very direct, and in doing so, their messages may look impolite. I can assume that if you could look into their “Sent” folder, you’d find out that many of their emails are written that very similar way. Therefore, don’t judge a situation without having enough information. If you believe the email was intentionally rude, you may want to ask why the sender behaves this way. There is a chance that the person will realize how rude he/she has been and would apologize immediately. However, be prepared that the person will become even more engaged and will not miss the opportunity to fight with you.

#3 Think of taking it offline

Email is just a text which makes impossible to hear a tone of voice or see people’s facial expressions. So if you are unhappy with the received email, it’s better to call or talk face to face with the sender.

#4 Answer email professionally

If people are rude,  don’t match their attitude.

#5 Use facts in your reply

facts

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Let’s assume you received a rude email from a co-worker asking you about the status of a report. The main idea is that your reply should not be focused on your reaction to the rudeness but the report. Discuss only facts like deadlines, timelines, and related topics.

#6 Draft email before sending

Think twice before you click the “send” button. Read your message out loud to make sure that it sounds professional rather than emotional.

#7 Make your message short

One day my friend Mike told me a story about his colleague Phill who once fancied himself as a critic of the year and send Mike an enormously long email listing over twenty unfair remarks about his performance. Can you imagine Phil’s face when he received Mike’s email saying: “Thank you very much, Phill.”? Well played, Mike!

short email

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#8 Stay straightforward

Sarcasm and irony belong to don’ts of basic email etiquette. Refrain from using them in business communication.

Mistakes to avoid when replying to a rude email

#1 Answer to rude email immediately

time

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If you choose to respond straight away, you may be full of emotions, and your message will be most likely rude or even aggressive. And what if you got everything wrong? What if you read between the lines?

#2 Be emotional

Often, people write emotional emails to get a reaction. By remaining calm and professional, you will demonstrate the sender how unnecessary and meaningless their rudeness was.

#3 Sharing rude email with your co-workers

I saw many articles, in which authors advised to forward a rude message from your colleague to other team members.  Well, it may be fun, and the “offender” will be taught a lesson, but don’t you think it’s far from professional?

#4 Using Self-defense in your reply

Rude people rarely care how you feel and what you think. So don’t waste your time to defend yourself. Besides, this can even lead to more attack.

Conclusion

Email is just a text which removes cues like tone of voice and facial expressions. If you react strongly to nasty emails, try to:

  • Assume that writer had good intentions;
  • Use the phone or meet in person to clarify the message;
  • Take a break to calm down;
  • Ask your manager or HR for additional support.
To always keep your email communications professional:
  • Use clear subject lines;
  • Identify yourself;
  • Keep your letter short and to the point;
  • Include a proper greeting and closing;
  • Check your grammar;
  • Recognize when your email isn’t productive. Make sure they are easy-to-understand and not rude, think three times before and three times after writing. Only then click “send.”
  • Ask, “What would I tell if we met face to face?” And remember, another human being is at the other end of your message.