Emails and texts are an effective form of communication - except when they aren’t! Messages that are peppered with ALL CAPS, excessive punctuation (??!!), extra emojis, weird humor, or pop culture references - can be misinterpreted. Often times, the receiver may feel there was an intention to make them feel stupid or ashamed.
No one should be allowed to abuse others verbally, physically or through any written form - they are all forms of abuse and should not be tolerated in the workplace (or elsewhere).
When we experience frequent “email incivility,” we’re more likely to be withdrawn from work the following week.
However, most of the time, written communication isn’t meant to hurt, it's just not carefully thought through about how the message might land with the receiver(s). Wherever we write, there’s the potential for misalignment and assumption. Unless we’re inside the head of the person doing the seemingly venomous writing, it’s impossible to know their intent. That is, are they actually being passive-aggressive or trying to teach?
When we feel called out or attacked, our brain stem takes control and goes into fight-or-flight survival mode. It triggers our nervous system to prepare for the crisis so our blood pressure rises, our hearts beat faster and stress hormones flood our systems. And unlike conversations where body language and vocal tone are part of the transmission, emails lack that context. Plus anything in writing lingers and be read and re-read, each time retriggering the emergency response.
Dealing with a snarky email or text isn’t ever fun but there are ways to do it with confidence, grace and professionalism. Here are some ways to manage it so it doesn’t trigger a regretted reaction:
1. Keep in mind that most people don’t write mindfully or empathetically. Instead, they’re focused on getting their message across and not considering the other person’s feelings. Oftentimes, emails and texts are dashed off carelessly without consideration of how they might be interpreted by the receiver.
2. Don’t respond right away. It’s tempting to immediately fire back with another fierce message, but you’re better served to take a moment and breathe. Once you feel calmer, consider if you’re reading into something that’s not there or simply not worth wasting energy over.
3. Only then, decide if and when you want to respond. Not every email or text requires an immediate response. When you are in control of your emotions, take confident action and ask for clarity of the intended message. Ask to speak with the person by noting something like: “I would like to understand better before responding to this. Can we schedule a time to talk?” You might just get a response that THEY realize that they didn’t communicate well.