Three Ways to Start a Tough Email

Julie Shenkman
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From time to time, nearly every modern worker needs to send a difficult email. Whether communicating with a colleague, business partner or customer, sending one of these messages requires a thoughtful and polite approach. This strategy minimizes angering the other individual while simultaneously addressing the problem at hand. Although nobody likes to send this sort of email, learning to open hard messages effectively is an essential skill for any employee to master.

Above all else, a difficult email must start with a professional and courteous tone. Many people feel tempted to snap at the recipient or unload a list of grievances. Unfortunately, this often proves detrimental to the overall goal of the message. Workers should resist taking the bait and should instead focus on sending a message that reflects positively on the sender.

One potential way to open hard messages is with an acknowledgement of the complaint at hand. For example, when communicating with unhappy customers, workers should not hesitate to express their apologies for the issue. This simply confirms to the recipient that his or her message has been received and that the worker is striving to resolve the problem effectively. Furthermore, opening with a polite and friendly tone helps soften harder subject matter within a difficult email.

In some cases, workers utilize email to confront a colleague or management. When a challenging obstacle arises at work, many employees find it easier to communicate via email. Additionally, a difficult email exchange provides written proof for the human resources department should a problem escalate for any reason. In this sort of email message, writers should open with an invitation for open dialogue. This helps reduce the chances that the recipient becomes defensive and angry.

Finally, workers should take any previous correspondence into consideration when sending a difficult email. Previous verbal attacks or abuse from the recipient do not merit retaliation. Instead, workers need to avoid writing anything that they would feel uncomfortable with someone else reading. Messages inadvertently get forwarded sometimes, or the recipient could choose to share the email with other workers. For an email message that continues a conversation, senders should open directly and begin addressing the problem immediately. It is also vital to avoid slinging mud and to simply ignore any barbs from the previous message.

Email messages provide an effective way for modern workers to communicate with others. In some instances, sending a message is the most efficient way to open a conversation, but it is important not to hide behind a difficult email. Passive aggressive messages do not solve problems but can compound existing issues. Unless the situation merits a written response, workers should consider speaking directly with would-be recipients in an effort to resolve conflict more organically.

Photo courtesy of franky242 at


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