The Solo Professional and Toxic Email


All of us would like to think that every person we have contact with is wonderful, nice, charming, and has a big heart.  That works in fairy tales, but not in business.

As a solo professional, you are the one and only point for toxic email. You never know when it will arrive and, when it does, do these 5 steps to keep an bad situation from turning ugly:

Breathe.  If you see the subject line first and it screams, “I’m really ticked off,” take a few breathes before you even open it.  In fact, put it aside and deal with it at another time.
Source.  Figure out who the email is from.  Someone you know, someone you don’t know, someone you thought was long gone, etc. Identify in your mind who this person is and what this may be regarding.
Speed read.  Read through the body of the email quickly.  Why? Because if you’re going to get upset about what it says, it’s better to read it and get an emotional upheaval out of the way.  So read away as you scream, holler, swear, or do whatever.
Stop.  For the next 10 minutes, do nothing. Don’t talk to anyone, don’t fire off an email back. don’t kick the dog.  NOTHING. During this 10 minutes, make a mental list of the 10 things that you are good at.  It doesn’t have to be business related: it can be personal.  For example, “I’m a great writer”, “I’m a fantastic parent”, “I have just lost 20 lbs.”, etc.  Focus only on the positive in your life.  In fact, show a little gratitude to your source.
Read the email.  You can now read the mail, slowly, and carefully. Imagine the email is not addressed to you but someone else.  Be objective.  Is the sender just spouting off things that make no sense, are there some good points to what is said, could it be just a misunderstanding about this or that, etc.  Really read it. In fact, read it out loud so that you hear what it says.

Once you’ve read the email, put it aside  for at least 24 hours – unless this is something critical that has to be handled this very minute. (Will people die or money be lost?) After 24 hours (or more), revisit the email and see if your perception of the content has changed. Then begin your response, keeping the following in mind:

Stick to the facts.  If the sender says x, y, and z happened and you can show otherwise, state that fact. 
Acknowledge reasonable emotions. If the emotion expressed are genuine, then acknowledge them – e.g., “I’m sorry you weren’t able to download your purchase in a timely fashion”.
Offer solutions.  Tell the sender what you are willing to do to rectify the problem.  Maybe this is sending the file they weren’t able to download directly to him/her. Do what you think is appropriate and comfortable, and do not let the sender push you into something you don’t want to do.
Delete it.  If this person is just full of out air, and there is no chance he/she can ruin your reputation, just delete the email. 

One quick mention about money:  never offer to issue a refund for any work that you actually completed.  If the person wanted a letter written and you wrote the letter and then he/she changed the entire context and would not pay for a rewrite, you are still owed the money for the original deliverable.  On a bigger scale, if someone has taken a multipart program you offered and has waited until the last week or so to starting complaining, this also does not warrant a refund.  Unhappy people will usually let you know early in the game.  If they don’t, they don’t get their money back.

Above all else, get toxic email out of your inbox as soon as possible. This still stop the negative energy from spreading to other things you’re working on.

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