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How to Write a Polite Email When You're Livid

How to Write a Polite Email When You're Livid

If I had to pick one thing I am seriously terrible at, it might be hiding my emotions. I am a walking emoticon, and as nice as this can be when I want to convey happiness, it is equally terrible when I want to hide furor. This emotional transparency bleeds into my written life, and I often labor to write a polite email to someone who is frustrating me. In that struggle I am not alone – many of us have coworkers who continuously test our patience. Yet, unless we are actively seeking enemies, we must maintain civil communication lines with these people.

How do you write a polite email to someone who is on your last nerve?

Here are some tips I’ve compiled from my most polite coworkers (who double as my email coaches).

1. Open by thanking them for their time and attention. The recipient of your email may very well think you are the one being idiotic. Do not open with demands. Instead, be polite, and simply thank them for their attention right off the bat.

2. Be proactive, not needlessly critical. Do not point out exactly what you are pissed about, or how pissed you are about it – no one cares. Or rather, someone might care, but only in so far as to judge you as whiney, annoying, hot-tempered, and generally a pain in the ass. So avoid all that and just point out proactive things that can be done to move the situation forward.

3. Use unnecessary words to soften a request. This one kills me because I am a blunt communicator. But bluntness in an email can come across as rude, so instead of “please do this,” say “might this be possible.” Similarly, instead of saying “you,” say “we” since it gives the request more of a we’re-in-this-together feel rather than a this-is-your-problem vibe.

4. Conclude with gratitude, not demands. Rather than saying, “let me know when this is resolved,” say, “thank you so much for your help, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

 

Below is an example of a generic email drafted in anger, along with a revised version that will not destroy any professional relationships. To me, the revised email feels effusive and insincere, but alas, it is a vast improvement over the original huffy version, and it is far more likely to yield a positive response.

An impolite email with curt language and unproductive complaining.

An impolite email with curt language and unproductive complaining.

A polite email with softening language and concrete, productive suggestions.

A polite email with softening language and concrete, productive suggestions.

The above tips can be helpful when navigating situations where you need to keep your cool. Of course, there are certainly times when what’s needed is a stern, to-the-point email, and if anyone wants tips on writing those, dudes, that’s my jam. If you let me know in the comments below, I’ll post about it soon.

 

Top photo by Reggie Robertson

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