Recovering From an Angry Email
I received an unfriendly email message from a colleague. The message started nicely with kind words, but ended with criticism and complaints. I felt stung. The whole situation was a misunderstanding and I had not even caused the problem.
“I’m innocent,” I wanted to proclaim. “It wasn’t my fault. We didn’t even know that there could be a problem.” Multiple emotions confused my thinking in a mixture of sadness and indignation. We didn’t have all of the information at the time and were acting with the best intentions.
As adults, the playground refrain “words will never hurt me” has a new significance. Instead of becoming immune to insult, we know that words have power and are capable of causing emotional distress. Our words affect the trajectories of our personal and professional relationships.
I emailed back a short and polite apology. I said that I was sorry and made assurances that the team understood the factors, and that the situation would not be repeated.
It takes time to process and recover from difficult interactions. An initial human response is to interpret events personally, although most of the time, they aren’t personal. We have hectic days, extensive obligations, and on-going demands. We’re all doing the best that we can to keep up with the pace of work.
• Sometimes when people are mean, it is because they are experiencing their own emotional states (tired, overworked, frustrated, etc.) and it truly has nothing to do with you.
• Being unkind may indicate a measure of trust because it may show that a person has enough faith in the relationship to be a little bit rude without fear of rejection.
• Rudeness may come from a perception of lack of control. People may feel powerless about other factors in their lives. A moment of emphatic, direct, and insensitive language may be a way for them to experience a sense of autonomy.
• Some people have difficulty expressing what they need. They may find it hard to say “no” initially, and then find it easy to protest after they are overextended.
• Sometimes anger is displaced. You may not be the actual target. A person may be upset by another party, such as a parent/caregiver, administrator, etc., and be unable to show it.
If you have been treated insensitively, I’m sorry. I understand that it feels bad. We all deserve better. When there are repeated patterns of inconsideration, we may need to change our work environment and/or self-advocate. We work on teams providing services and supports for clients with complex needs. We partner with families who are experiencing significant stress regarding the growth and development of their children. It’s our job to care for each other, too. In our daily work we can be role models of respectful interactions. We can sincerely thank each other for the hard work that we do, and we can forgive those occasional times when we are less than polite.