The Easy Emails

The interesting thing about communication is that people think it’s all about self expression. It is not. Communication is a service based skill. Which means it’s not about what you need in that moment; it’s what your audience needs. What service can you offer or provide them?

This can get particularly frustrating when you drag your cursor to the “reply” button. Some responses are easy. In fact the easy responses are usually the ones that entail you asking a question or making an inquiry, or the throw away emails that are cordial and polite, but wholly unnecessary to continue business. Example:


“got it.”

and other pleasantries not worthy of a memo. Remember, email replaced memos, not Post Its – we still have Post Its for that, and even text messaging and 8,957 instant messaging applications. 🙂

The Challenge Emails

When someone pisses you off with a a dumb question (one you already answered in the previous email), or an insane request of your time and resources (sometimes by assuming and not truly asking for your expertise), or their tone or demeanor are just off in general, there can be a propensity to take offense, and go on the defensive.

No, you say? I don’t take emails that personally you say? Have you ever thought or sent an email that included one of the following default defense strategies?:

  1. Show them that you are smarter than they are – using big words, complex clauses, referencing your expertise in the subject matter, taking screenshots and/or quoting previous emails (As I said in the last email ” . . .”)
  2. Point out everything that they have done wrong – holes in their process or system, poor planning, lagging response times. This is where you demonstrate to them that this need that has been created is of their own invention, fueled by their incompetence.
  3. Give directives – This is when you only provide one solution or option and assume that your solution is the only and the best option available.

Now, when you do these things, mentally for a moment, you start to feel better about those pesky request emails. That email you have drafted does a number of things to put you at ease.

Write That Defensive Email

You validate yourself, your expertise, your work ethic, and your competence by reminding yourself that them asking you a question is not because YOU are deficient in any of these areas.

them asking you a question is not because YOU are deficient in any of these areas

The way to write a good rebuttal email is to write out all of your frustrations and the rationale and the deep thinking and the complaining and the ” I know my shit attitude” . Get it all out on paper. Get clear in your mind as to why you feel what you feel. And then take a step back.

Remember most people are asking you questions because they really want to know the answer. Don’t get so caught up in validating yourself that you bury the solution for the reader. Or worse, you never answer the question at all.

You need that rebuttal defensive email. Your colleague does not.

So What Do You Do?

  • You draft the email.
  • Vent with all of the validating techniques I mentioned above.
  • Express how you have already done so much to prevent this question from happening.
  • Point out what they could have done differently to avoid this need from arising. You tell them where to go.
  • And then you delete all of that.

That stays in a draft with an empty “to” field and it goes nowhere, except the trash.

And when you collect yourself you write a response like a grown up.

  • You ask them some questions back (if necessary). Usually when someone queries you they don’t provide you will all the information you need,
  • To save yourself time, it’s helpful to format an email that has 2-3 potential responses they may have for your probing questions, and
  • Include the 2-3 appropriate solutions for each.

Example Email

They ask you “What is the dress code for Tuesday?” You respond with :

  1. Casual greeting or banter as appropriate to the culture of the person and situation ie. “Hi Jim, Love this question. I know there have been a few dress code snafus with these events. “
  2. Lay out a bridge statement so they know what to pay attention to: “Dress code depends on where you are going after the event.”
  3. State scenario or option1 and the solution: “If you are attending the panel discussion after the keynote, please dress in business professional attire.
  4. State scenario or option 2 and the solution: “If you are attending the team building exercise following the keynote, please dress in casual attire (jeans acceptable) and comfortable shoes for running and jumping.”
  5. Close the email with an open option to continue the conversation in the solution space: “Hope that answers your question. Feel free to reach out if there is something else I can help with.”

What’s The Difference?

Your rant is a closed ended conversation. Your bulleted suggestions is an open ended dialogue which demonstrates you are humble, open to collaboration, helpful and solutions oriented. Everything we all want in a customer service rep.

And what happens to the validating rant-y part of your email? After you write it, you read it. Then you delete it and send your bulleted optional solutions, your ask and answered binaries, and your open invitation to collaboration. That’s it. Say no more.

Write less, collaborate more.

But What About Those ‘Dumb’ Questions?

If you have direct feedback that can help someone get better at communication or prevent them for running into this problem again, the best bet is to provide them that feedback after their initial solution has been found. And if you can deliver that feedback in person, over video call, or on the phone (in that priority) before resorting to email, that would be best.

How do you temper your email responses? Do you have someone review them before you hit send? What about a mandatory draft period before you respond? Share your strategies in the comments.

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