The tips below don’t apply to emails from trolls. Trolls are attention seekers. Ignore them. When they don’t get receive a reaction they seek other prey.
Step 1. ‘Is this worth responding to?’ Ask yourself questions like:
‘What is behind their aggression?’ (Put yourself in their shoes to learn the real issue.)
‘Are they trying to upset me? Is that their aim?’
‘Will it matter if I do nothing?’
‘Is the person just venting? Will they settle down after a while?’
‘Normally this person is reasonable. Are they just having a bad day?’
‘On a scale from one to ten, how important is this email to my life?’
‘Is this person expecting a response?’
Result: consider just ignoring it, or sending a reply: ‘I received your email.’
Step 2. Wait! Don’t respond immediately – with your adrenalin running you might invite more hostility and make trouble for yourself. Give yourself a chance to collect your thoughts and calm yourself. When you observe the email dispassionately, like a scientist, the decisions you make will be better.
Wait a few days if necessary.
Step 3. Seek a second opinion from someone impartial. Ask the person:
‘How do you interpret this?’
‘Do you think I need to respond?’
‘What do you think is going on inside the person’s head?’
‘If I respond will I make it difficult for myself? Could this become a legal problem?’
‘What do you think I should do?’
‘Should I phone the person? See them face to face?’
You have chosen to respond by email.
Step 4. Write your letter (but don’t yet send it).
– Don’t waste time inflaming the situation further. Don’t criticise the person. Don’t complain about their hostility. Don’t be sarcastic. Don’t accuse.
– Don’t threaten or speculate.
– Don’t waste time picking apart their claims. The easier it is to pick apart their claims, the less likely they are to agree with you. A nice little paradox.
1. If you wish, begin by letting them know you’ve heard their concerns.
‘I understand that you think . . . . .’
‘I can see you are angry because . . .’
‘You’re saying that . . .’ (explain their point of view)
2. Then re-establish your position clearly. That might mean correcting misunderstandings. ’I should clear something up. When I said that . . .’
3. State what needs to happen from now on. ‘Let’s focus on designing . . .’
4. If you owe the person an apology, give them a considered one. But don’t be submissive.
5. Write your letter with a relaxed, polite tone, and without being submissive. Sound confident. Brevity is good.
‘Dear Ray, I understand that you are angry about the situation. You are saying that you were . . . . (1) I wish to clarify something: . . . However, the position we have taken remains unchanged. (2) Would you please return the . . . (3)
Step 5. Save it as a draft. Wait a day before sending your response.
Meanwhile, again ask yourself: ’In what way might my email be used? Will sending this letter make it difficult for myself? What would happen if the email was produced in court? Will the person send it to others?
Consider again seeking the advice of your impartial friend about your completed letter. You might want to change the letter to something more diplomatic, or choose to not send it at all.
Step 6. Reflect.
‘What could I have done to prevent this from happening? Should I modify my behaviour to prevent this from happening again?’
If you receive another similar email from the same person, either ignore it or make the same points, but be even briefer.