Don’t Send Angry Emails (Ever)

Writing angry emails is great therapy. Sending them is always a bad idea.
There’s a GOOD reason why humans get angry: it’s to adjust our behaviour when someone is attacking us, so that we can respond appropriately; and in particular, it’s to signal to the offender that they’ve crossed the line. It’s actually a necessary feature of a cooperative society: it means we can assume that people will generally behave decently, and we react strongly when they don’t.
Of course in modern times we still need to remember to chill out as much as possible, since the anger response is better suited to the physical confrontations of the dawn of human history than to today’s petty social politics and business negotiations; but on rare occasions, indignation–and even anger–can be the appropriate response.

However angry letters don’t work that way for many reasons. One of the big reasons is that there’s a time lag. Angry responses only work as an immediate response to radically inappropriate behaviour. If someone pisses you off and you write back to them angrily, they will probably get the email after they’ve begun to forget what they wrote. It’s even worse than getting angry in person, because it comes across psychologically to the person receiving the letter, as though it were an unprovoked attack, rather than a direct response to what they wrote earlier.

Another reason is that when you write the email in response to another, chances are extremely high that you’ve misunderstood the tone of the email you’re responding to, and that the tone of your own email will be further misunderstood.

And finally, to fuel the flames further, people tend to exhibit nastier behaviour when they can’t see their interlocutor’s face or hear the tone of their voice. People become demons behind the windshields of their cars, and flame wars have erupted since online communication became possible. Angry people write much nastier things online than they ever would say in person, but the receivers of such vitriol take it just as badly.

Writing the nasty email that’s burning inside you can help coalesce your complaints into something consistent, and it gets it off your chest. But make sure you put your OWN email address in the “To:” field before you type the first word.

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