We’ve all been there. We get an email from a client that hits us right in the feels and sends us into a spin of defensiveness, sadness, and/or fret. We know we have to respond. We are tempted to react. The person who is angry or irritated demands an answer. Now is the time where we set our reactions aside, and learn how to write a difficult email.
Most situations that are full of strife are better handled via phone or video conference. My go-to response with really angry people is to take 24 hours to allow both parties to calm, and then email back:
Dear So and Who,
Thank you for your email. It’s important to [insert studio name] that we come to a great solution – and I think we can. I’d prefer to discuss all the concerns via phone or video conference so we can work out the details with as much clarity as possible. I have [insert three times] available. Which of those would be the best time to call/Zoom?
[your awesome name]
While it may not be comfortable to speak directly, it’s one of those things we signed up for as business owners. Having scripts and being clear on your desired outcome can help with this.
Still, there are times when an email is called for, and I’d like to offer some ideas on how to write a difficult email to an irritated client while maintaining your grace and composure – which is also needed to provide excellent customer service and run a service-based microbusiness well. I can’t make you a template, but what I can do is offer a checklist of sorts to help you determine if your email is neutral and helpful.
Difficult emails may not even be about someone being irritated or angry – they may just be pushing up against a boundary. I think the following checklist is helpful for these “boundary bumper” emails, too.
Difficult Email “Checklist”:
- Wait to Respond
- The amount of time will depend on your level of anxiety around writing back, and how attacking or questioning you feel the email was
- 24 hours is a good place to start
- Take off your “Imma take this personally” hat
- Time to separate yourself – address this as though you are a top notch customer service representative of a company.
- Resist the urge to equate their frustration with your value or identity. (I dare say this is good advice for any relationship!)
- Double (yea TRIPLE) check to be SURE that the person is actually angry or irritated. Are you absolutely sure they are angry or upset, or did your mind add that layer because of defensiveness or imposter syndrome? Perhaps they are simply asking a question. We can’t read people’s minds.
- I see this ALL THE TIME. We read into other people’s words with whatever we are dealing with in the moment. Assume the best until it’s proven otherwise. Most people are wanting clarification, not a fight.
- Put on your “business owner hat”
- Do you have the data you need to respond to their frustration? For example, if you get an email about policies being awful, do you have the information about when and how the policies were agreed to?
- Is there any missing information that you need in order to solve the problem?
- Decide on your desired outcome for this situation. Be specific, be aware of what you have control over and what you don’t.
- Desired outcomes tend to work best when they do not include bending over backward to make someone happy. *wink*
- Thank the person for email – they could’ve just continued to be mad, and that’s definitely not the best!
- Restate the problem
- Be sure you can correctly identify the actual problem. It’s tempting to read into (HA!) text, and we have to be very careful to not make assumptions about tone or add problems to the list that aren’t stated. Again, we can’t read people’s minds, so don’t try to.
- Instead of saying “you said”, try “The problem stated was [either insert words or restate in your words]. Is this correct?”
- Acknowledge the frustration that IS stated
- Customer Service 101: NEVER try to talk someone out of their feelings. Just… don’t. Even if you think they have no right to feel the way they feel. Even if they are asshat about it. Even if they are flat out in the wrong about the situation.
- Resist using the word “I” – try to use “the studio” or insert the name of the business whenever appropriate
- The less personal you can make the problem, the better.
- This is helpful, too, for those who maybe need a gentle reminder that they are dealing with a business, not a hobbyist.
- Watch out for passive aggressive language that places blame
- Starting sentances with “If you” can unintentioanlly read like an ulitmatum
- Avoid value judgments. Allow them to retain agency as you solve the problem.
- De-escalate. Be confident that the problem will be solved, leaving both parties hearts and minds intact. Allow this situation to “not be a big deal”, even though it may feel that way now.
- The person writing the email is flustered and confused and upset
- Allow people to go. If the problem isn’t solvable, “bless and release”, as we say in SECO (thanks Rebekah!). Ya just can’t make everyone happy, and that’s okay.
- Don’t expect to solve everything in one email exchange. Sometimes, that’s all it will take. Many times, there will be a couple of back and forths. (Again, if it gets too back and forthy, time to get on the phone.)
- Keep it as short as possible, while providing all needed information.
- Use bullets, headings, and other formatting tools to bring clarity.
- Gone are the days of the long form giant block of text email. Breaking up info into bite size chunks helps with readabilty and clarity.
Examples of Ways to Reword Difficult Emails
Always write the shitty first draft first – say what you wanna say, how ya wanna say it. Do this in a Google or Word or Pages or Notes Doc – NOT EMAIL. You can guess why, eh?
Here are a few examples.
If you are still committed to lessons and pursuing a quality voice education, just write me back here.
Once you’ve determined if pursuing lessons is the best way forward, please write me back here.
Unfortunately, I am not able to accommodate your request.
[Insert name of studio] is not able to accommodate this request, yet we are happy to [insert solution].
You read and signed the contract and so you are expected to follow it. It states in the policies no reschedules or cancelations.
I’ve attached a copy of the signed policies for your review. I trust that this will bring clarity to the confusion around the studio reschedule and cancelation policies.
I’m sorry, I can’t consider adjusting my rates and offers.
At this time, the studio will not be revisiting its rates or offers. Thanks for understanding!
It seems that the studio’s policies and pricing are no longer in alignment with your needs. This sometimes happens! I am happy to pass on some names of trusted colleagues who may fit what you’re looking for better.
Resolve Instead of React
In order to be free from the fret, and get to a place where we trust ourselves to handle difficult emails quickly, will most likely take time – and therapy. HA!
In the meantime, we can use frameworks and scripts to help us resolve situations, instead of reacting to them.
How you run your business is your business. Your policies are there to create agreements around the expectations both parties have in the relationship. At times, you’ll need to kindly and gently redirect and remind people of what they committed to.
These tough emails are GOLD for us, because they show us where we can be more clear in our wording or where a process can be improved.
When we go for the win-win, ie, the resolution, we often gain insight and are able to create an even more powerful and transformative relationship with our clients.
Getting caught up in a reaction and creating narratives around what we think emails mean is normal. You’re not a bad person to have a reaction. I would be worried if you didn’t! You have feelings that need to be felt – before your write back.
After all – CONFLICT + RESOLUTION = INTIMACY
What are some of your favorite go-to scripts for difficult emails?
All My BeastyBoss,
P.S. Trauma greatly informs how we react. If you’re living with trauma, I understand that this “ability to control a reaction” means something very different for you and your brain responses. This blog is written from an informed perspective, yet may work best for those who have already worked through the re-regulation of the nervous system, or for one who is not living with a level of trauma that would bring unregulated chemical responses. I wanted to acknowledge that even sometimes an email can genuinely trigger a trauma response and that this blog is not intended to ignore that fact. There are many trauma-informed therapists who are legally and clinically able to help with this! (I am not that!)
P.P.S In SECO last week, one of our members shared this tic tok, and I just love how it deals with those difficult phone and face to face convos we need to have soemtimes. Thanks, Melissa!
P.P.P.S Have you seen our new SECO information/sales page? It’s updated to reflect all the amazing mojo we are up to – check it out!