I keep getting inappropriate emails. Help!

I keep getting inappropriate emails. Help!

My group supports all the departments in our company. I understand that I’m in a service function but I have several “clients” who send incredibly inappropriate emails that totally piss me off. How should I deal with this? R.A., New York, NY

Kudos to you for seeing the opportunity in this annoying situation. When we get triggered by someone’s behavior, it’s easy to make the situation worse and end up affecting our own reputation.

When you receive this type of message, tell yourself, “It’s about him/her.” This interrupts your urge to react emotionally and buys you time to strategize. It also is undoubtedly true.

Maybe the sender lashed out because they made a mistake (and can’t admit it), or forgot to tell you how soon they needed something, or is just having a bad day. This doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it may be the reason why. It’s important to identify whether there is any legitimacy to their complaint so you know how to best handle it.

If they’re acting out because they’re having a bad day, you might let it go the first time or two. But if it’s a pattern, go see them when you’re calmer. Let them know you are trying to do a good job for them and expect to be treated professionally. Make sure you don’t back them into a corner. It could sound something like, “Joe, I take a lot of pride in my work. You may not realize it but sometimes when you’re having a bad day your emails feel like you’re yelling at me. That gets in the way of me doing my best for you.” Then wait for him respond. You want him to really get the impact of his behavior.

If he has a legitimate grievance, say something like, “Joe, I understand that I made an error when I did X. I take pride in my work and certainly didn’t intend to do so. When I got your note, it really threw me for a loop because the tone of it was so aggressive. When this happens next time, and I know it will since I’m only human, it’d help me respond more quickly and better if you’d …” then tell him how you want him to respond.

We teach people how to treat us, so it’s important to address inappropriate behavior—and to know when to let it slide.

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