Most of us have been tempted to send a snarky response to a seemingly unreasonable email every now and then. Perhaps our colleague placed unrealistic demands on our time or maybe a client said something to us that was just plain rude. Our impulse may be to respond with an email that is just as disrespectful as the one that we received, but this course of action is almost always ill-advised.

Many of us know someone who paid the price for blasting off one of these reckless messages. John, a client of mine, was one who paid dearly for this misstep. He had been leading a team of consultants for months on a project for a mid-sized firm, when one day, without warning or discussion, the client suddenly altered some of the “fine print” in the contract. To John, it felt like a bait-and- switch.” When he received an e-mail notification of the action taken by the client, he immediately composed an angry response; but instead of sending it, he wisely forwarded it to the other team members. Because he didn’t immediately receive a response from his colleagues, he went ahead and sent the message to the client anyway. Unfortunately, the impact of this single email was disastrous, and the team lost the contract.

The fallout from thoughtless emails is not always so extreme, but rarely does anything good come from them. So how can we avoid the unfavorable
consequences of sending a snarky email?

1. Gather more information

We may not know the whole story. It’s possible that our strong emotional reaction may be the result of our own “filling in the blanks” incorrectly. Had John asked why the client altered the fine print before assuming they were trying to pull a “bait-and-switch,” perhaps he would have received some information that would have altered his perception.

2. Call or speak to them in person

Written messages are easy to misunderstand, particularly e-mails and text messages.  The risk of misperception is even greater when we don’t have a close relationship, working or otherwise, with the sender. Voice and facial expression often convey information crucial to the correct interpretation of messages.

3. Post reminders

Perhaps on the computer display – of blunders or bad feelings that resulted from misunderstanding e-mails or other electronic messages. Such reminders are often hard-earned in a situation such as John’s. It doesn’t take too many lost clients for us to recognize the need for pause before taking what might be impulsive action. John himself, as a future prevention technique took a piece of fluorescent orange paper and posted it on the corner of his computer. It reads simply: PAUSE.


Cultivate the habit of delaying messages that are heated, loaded, or even vague. We might ask another person to review the message. If at all possible, wait until tomorrow to review before deciding to send. We might even try sending the email to ourselves first; waiting 12 to 24 hours, and then reviewing it prior to sending it off.

Bad online etiquette happens in all kinds of situations; sometimes we get the snarky email and sometimes we send it. But in either case, the ramifications once that email is sent are likely to result in long-term consequences that none of us can foresee. And for that reason, a measured pause is the best tool we can use to avoid sending a snarky email. We’ll never be sorry that we waited, but chances are good that we’ll be very sorry we didn’t.

Originally published on Ladders.

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