Avoid the Bully Email Syndrome

Posted In: Things That Suck
Posted On: 1/8/2018

When the nasty email came into my inbox, I couldn’t believe it.  I probably read the darn thing about five times to make sure I was not over-reacting to the words.  

And then I double-checked the distribution list just to confirm that, yes, there was a who’s who of people on copy!  In a flash, I went through a series of emotions:

Shock.  Why would someone write something so negative and copy a bunch of people?

Hurt.  Why wouldn’t this person just tell me this directly via a phone call or discuss it the next time we were together in-person?

Anger.  How dare this person not have the gumption (you know I am thinking about another word here) to say this to my face versus the cowardly route of email?

Revenge.  What could I do to make this person sorry that the “send” button was ever pressed?

Dismissal.  Do I really care about this person’s POV after all?  Nope.

But this little exchange made me think about how easy it is to write a quick email without thinking through the ramifications. And how easy it is to be brave when you are not looking the person in the eye or hearing their voice on the other end of the line. Jane Knows Handling Difficult Emails

I call this the Bully Email Syndrome.  Instead of being out on the playground and challenging you to a fight, your new adversary has the power of email.  The power to write whatever he/she thinks making sure everyone else knows what they think.  You know, the old double dog dare. And then he/she stands by waiting to see if you’ll throw the punch back or walk away.  (And the rest of the mob is waiting, too)!

In the circumstance that you get bullied via email, here are my 5 Tips that can guide your response:

1. Do not respond immediately with the first mean, bold, nasty response that comes to mind;
2. Put the email aside for 24 hours, so you can go through your own emotional process;
3. Think through the motivation behind the email; what is the hidden agenda that is behind the outburst;
4. Reach out to either meet in person or talk on the phone instead of responding via email;
5. In the meeting (or phone call), work to come to some common ground so that the bully doesn’t feel that is the best tactic for them to use in the future.

What did I do in this situation?  On the positive side, I did not respond with a snarky email (although that was really, really hard).  I wrote a balanced email that indicated that I would have preferred being told this in-person.  On the negative side, I responded via email and copied everyone with my response.  I wish I would have picked up the phone and just hashed it out because I know that the underlying feelings that drove the email are still there.

The good news is that I know I didn’t handle this appropriately and that self-awareness will help me do the right thing in the future.

Always remember that the best way to deal with a bully is to not become a bully yourself.