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An Introvert's Guide to Being Sociable: Sending Argumentative Emails

ambroselittle profile image Ambrose Little ・5 min read

The next installment in the "Introvert's Guide to Being Sociable" series..

Sending Angry or Argumentative Emails

This is definitely a weakness of my own. As a writer and a naturally argumentative person who very nearly always has to be right (or at least feel like I'm right), I am very susceptible to sending (usually long) emails to debate things with someone at work. As folks who work on computers all day and usually do actually do a lot of important communication through writing (emails, Slack, whatevs), it's natural to fall into this one.

And it's not always wrong or a bad thing. Sometimes you do need to address things. Sometimes it helps (or is necessary) to do it in writing.

But I've learned a few techniques over the years to help me determine when I really need to send these versus when I just want to, in the heat of the moment.

Go Ahead and Write

Yep. That's right. Type that puppy up. If you don't, you most likely will just stew about it in your head, thinking of all these wonderful things to say. Write it. Let it rip. Say everything you want to say, and don't worry too much about editing yourself at this point.

Remove the TO!

BEFORE you start writing, remove ALL addresses from the TO, CC, and BCC. One of the worst things that can happen is for you to prematurely hit send, especially if it's emotional. A lot of email programs have shortcuts like ALT+Enter. You can accidentally type that. So just save yourself the potential embarrassment and remove the addresses. Another option is to compose in a different editor just to avoid the accident altogether.

Don't Send (Not Yet)

Once you've written it. Don't send. You can do an editing pass at this point, if you feel you really want to. But the best thing is to just save it in your drafts. Close the email. Now get back to work. You're going to let it sit for at least 24 hours.

I can't stress enough how important this is. You got it all out. Now just sleep on it. Wait at least a day.

Review It. Edit.

Now you've slept on it and given yourself some time to chill. Before you review it, ask yourself if you really think it's important to send it. I say ask before, because if you reread or think too much about what you wrote, you're likely to get yourself worked up again. It's better to ask yourself this with a cooler head that isn't thinking about all those great flaming points you made. The point shouldn't be "I must prove myself right" but something more productive.

With the end goal of forward progress in mind, if you do think it's still important, go ahead and review and edit it. If you find yourself still feeling upset, it might be good to save and wait another day.

Sometimes, at this point, I'll just email it to myself rather than keeping it in draft. That way I have the text where I can go back to it, but it's not sitting there demanding I do something with it. Many times, I've found this itself exorcises the need to actually send it. Sometimes others involved in the convo will make the salient points I was thinking, so I can pass the torch, as it were.

Better in Person?

Very much advice out there will tell you to talk to folks in person, rather than write. I agree this is something to seriously consider, particularly if you feel that there needs to be a lot of back and forth, and if you feel you're not being understood (or maybe not understanding them). A face-to-face talk is usually best, even video face-to-face. Phone calls are okay, but you still lose a lot of the non-verbal communication. Generally speaking, 1-1 conversations are better than group, when resolving differences. See if you can go to lunch or grab a coffee or a beer or something with the other.

This is hard for the introvert, but the reality is that 1-1, face-to-face usually will end up better with real resolution, than continuing through some other medium. It helps both of you remain aware that you are both real human beings and not just an idea that you don't like. It's easy to fall into dehumanization when arguing in writing. And talking through things in person also helps to build or rebuild a real relationship with the other person.

But sometimes, you just need to get your thoughts all out there without interruption. Sometimes, if you're like me, you might do better expressing yourself in writing. And if you take the advice of waiting and editing and reminding yourself of the goal of forward progress/resolution, then you can avoid getting sucked into emotions that may trigger by being in person again. So it might still be better to write.

By waiting, though, you're giving yourself at least a chance to sift through these considerations. As I said, many times I have decided that it's just not worth it. I delete it. Or I send it to myself. Sometimes I send myself the long version with all the "stuff" there, but I send a much briefer, action-oriented response to move things forward with the other person.

And sometimes I still give in and regret sending, but I have found that to be less often the case than when I don't follow the steps above.

Send It

If you've decided it's best to send, and you've waited and edited. Double, triple, quadruple check that the TO line is to the right person. Accidentally emailing the wrong person--something I've done--is also super embarrassing when it's a touchy subject.

Rinse and repeat if the discussion continues. But if it does, the chances of talking in person being a better path increase with each reply.

Bonus Tip: Social Media

The above are also good things to consider when posting on social media. Sometimes I'll write something up in Gmail and sit on it there before posting. This has saved me a lot of trouble and wasted time. And also, unfollowing threads can be very helpful, if you decide not to continue to engage. Just remove the temptation. These days I rarely argue on social media, and then only with actual, real friends whom I care about. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I find having a real-life friendship helps such discussions to have a better chance at remaining productive.

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ambroselittle profile

Ambrose Little

@ambroselittle

Experienced software and UX guy. Over 20 years making professional software. Lots of tech/tools/languages. Father of 7. Armchair philosopher. Currently focused on full stack dev with React, Node..

Discussion

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"Go ahead and write"

"Remove the TO"

These pieces of advice (since I received them many years ago) have been invaluable to me.

When something irks me, or I feel like I need to write a long-form response to something I'll draft an email to no-one and see how I feel about sending it once I'm done writing. Typically these messages don't get sent. If I feel like there's something salient to say, I'll usually have that chat in person.

Recently, I've gotten into the habit of saving my unsent rant emails so I can review them much later on (months, or years later). Now I have a folder overflowing with entertaining arguments about testing tools, frontend frameworks, why there's no reason to use Java when Kotlin exists etc.

It's incredibly humbling to look back at these arguments, and It's remarkable how frequently I think past-me is a self-important tool 😂

Great to see this advice echoed here 👍

 

I also feel much more confident expressing myself in writing rather than verbally. I do a TON of this kind of writing for myself (in a separate editor) as a form of processing, but I rarely ever actually hit the "send" button. I love the tip that this is good for social media as well - I'm definitely guilty of responding to something too quickly while in a stressed emotional state.

Thank you Ambrose! 💯