How to Reply To Rude Emails?


Email etiquette is a big part of business, regardless of what type of industry you’re in or what rank you operate at. According to a recent study by Sanebox, the average person spends 28% of their workweek reading and responding to emails, so having good email etiquette is important. A lot of companies keep email communications as a way of leaving a paper trail. What that means is that when you put something into writing on an email, you can always trace back to that point in time. This is important for situations where you have a task or request for someone and need them to get it done before a certain time or date. If they ever push back and state that you never brought it up, now you have your email correspondence to refer back to.

What happens if someone within your company, or an external party responds with a rude email back to you? How do you approach this situation? I’ve received my fair share of rude and angry emails, but the important lesson to note is that you have to approach them with a calm, collected state of mind. The minute you respond in a similar fashion, you will end up escalating the problem to a much larger scale.

Take a deep breath

Sounds like a typical answer but let’s be realistic. Some people are easily irritated and trigger happy with their emails. I know I’m guilty of sending off an email without thinking of the consequences. When you receive a rude email, take a deep breath before you even THINK about reacting. Calm yourself and ask yourself some questions.

  • What’s the context of this rude email?
  • Why is this person pushing back in this fashion?
  • What did I do to garner a response like this?
  • Is there more to it than meets the eye?

When you look into the issue, you might be able to find the source of this email and clearly think about a favorable way to reply. Always try to remain diplomatic when dealing in emails. You want to be stern, but not rude. Try to ignore any snide comments or barbs from the email and reply in a professional manner while CC’ing your superior in the email too for accountability.

Think before you press “Send”

I’m sure you know what a “draft” is on emails. Have you ever considered using it to plan out a response? A lot of people think emails should be written out and sent immediately. That’s one way to do it, but it can lead to a lot of complications. Refrain from being hasty.

Write out a draft email, take a step back, and read it over. Think of it from this perspective: would you be comfortable speaking like this to the person directly face-to-face? How about if you spoke that way to your superior? If you’re not okay with either one of those questions, then your email shouldn’t be sent out. You need to be the bigger person when dealing with rude emails. There’s a little bit of pacifism when it comes to dealing with rude emails, but it’s generally more productive than an anger-laden email sent in a rush.

De-escalate the situation

Depending on the situation, it might be prudent to hold off on any email reply and wait for the situation to cool down a little. Instead of stoking the fire, reply in a day or two if the matter isn’t too urgent. Usually, the person who sent the rude email should be thinking a little more clearly by that time.

Example: The Boss

Let’s say you received a rude email from your boss, stating that your work is terrible and how she can’t believe you’ve gotten this far in the company. A good reply that you could send to de-escalate and address the issue is something like this:

“Good afternoon X,

I’m open to hearing why you think that and discussing ways on how we can remedy this issue. I did the project to the best of my abilities but if it isn’t good enough, I’d like to know why and how we can fix it.”

Never send a heated email, especially to your superiors. It will only end poorly for you.

Example: The Colleague

A potential example could be that your colleague sends you a rude email on how they feel like you aren’t doing your part for the company. Do not retaliate with statements about their performance. Instead, try to reason with them and set up a time to meet in person to discuss this. It would also be prudent to CC someone in senior management that you can rely on to mediate the conversation.

“Good afternoon X,

It’s unfortunate that you feel this way. Maybe you’d like to meet in person sometime so that we can discuss what’s making you unhappy. I’d like to clear the air on this situation.

I’ve included Y in the email chain as well so that he can mediate any misunderstandings.”

Example: The Client

Clients can sometimes give you a hard time, especially if they don’t agree with your methodology or working practices. If they send you an email asking where their deliverables are and they’re being rude about it (especially if it’s unwarranted), you could try an email like this. Main thing is to NOT send this email immediately after they sent you one. Give it some time and let the client relax a little.

“Hi X,

I understand that you are upset. As discussed previously, the scope of our project is supposed to be due in one week. Our original estimate was to give time to our team to correctly and effectively complete the project to your satisfaction. Maybe we can discuss this in further detail to address some potential solutions.”

In all honesty, dealing with rude emails takes a lot of personal judgment and patience. You have to be the bigger person and make the right call on how to approach each situation. Even unfounded anger from the opposite party shouldn’t be immediately met with angry replies. The reality of the situation is that you shouldn’t be rude, be professional and leave the emotion out of your response.

Chris Chu

Freelance writer, passionate about professional and personal development.

4 min read

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