I’m constantly amazed at the things people feel it is acceptable to ‘say’ via email and social media that I don’t think they would ever, ever come out and say to your face. Maybe they would and my friends are just unusually polite and restrained…but I don’t think so. Restrained isn’t the first thing I think when I consider the people dear to me. So it is probably something else. Here are a few techniques you can use when conflict and nasty communications are forced upon you.
Don’t take it personally. Often there are multiple ways to interpret something in writing. Reread the offending piece a few times and see if you can find a way to take it that isn’t offensive. Even if you’re pretty sure they meant it the offensive way.
Consider not responding. What will really happen if you just let this go? Will it really hurt your business? Are there real world consequences? If not, let it pass.
Keep it cool and professional. If you do need to respond, make your responses temperate and professional. Try to choose words that don’t provoke. Don’t escalate the situation; respond as neutrally as possible. If you must, you can say you find the situation unprofessional, against current policy, contrary to normal guidelines. Don’t say they are idiots, ill mannered morons, or liars. Even if you are quite certain they are all of the above. Call your friends and be honest some other time. When you reply, be professional.
Be brief. In conflict less is more. Let them bluster if they must. Make your points count and then withdraw. The longer you engage the more hostility that can come up and the more opportunity they have to drag you down to their level. Answer any salient points they offer, and stop. Don’t respond to anything but facts.
Stay off the phone. If you must engage the conflict, do it in writing. That gives you more space to think about what you’re going to say, and possibly to run it by someone you trust before you respond. If you’re on the phone it’s easy to let your mouth run away with you in the heat of an exchange. Email also gives you a record of the conversation, should you need one.
Just one more word to the wise. When writing a cathartic email, write it in word, in note-pad, anywhere but an actual email . Then you, or someone helpful, can’t accidentally send it before editing. Don’t be a cautionary tale.