We've all done it. Misread, or rather, misinterpreted an email or were simply having a bad day when we shot off an email that we didn't really mean to come across as harshly as it did. Whether it's to a co-worker, a friend or a family member, it's that moment when your hands are typing faster than your brain is thinking and you hit send without considering what the cascade of consequences that could stem from the stream of mean words. So, what do you do?
Psychologists admit that it's natural to lash out when we're angry or feel threatened -- the flight or fight response is triggered, putting into motion a series of actions that causes us to either lash out or withdraw from the situation.
Unfortunately, with emails, texts and social media, the person sending the message or tweet doesn't see the response of the receiver, which makes it seem almost as if it didn't happen. The sender doesn't have to deal with the consequences of hurt feelings, because the social cues, seen through face-to-face interaction or via voice on the phone are missing. Think about it. When you talk to someone in person, you are able to see how their face or body language change if you say something hurtful or offensive, but that's missing when delivered through electronic correspondence.
First things first, if you send a harshly worded email, an apology is required and NOT via email. Pick up the phone, or better yet, talk to the person face-to-face. Admit that you were wrong, that your emotions got the best of you and take ownership of your mistake. Dr. Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center in California tells the Wall Street Journal "When you attack someone, you diminish them. Groveling is a way to show your vulnerability so they feel safe enough to forgive you."
Oh, and the apology only works if it was a one-off message. If you're in the habit of sending strongly worded, nasty messages or texts, a simple apology isn't going to fix it. If you find yourself shooting off hurtful words on a regular basis, try to pause before sending or wait until the next day, when you're emotions have cooled a bit. For me, things always look brighter in the morning and I know that 9 times out of 10, if I pause before I respond, then I won't have something to apologize for later that day.
A good rule is to simply pause and wait to respond. There's no rule that says you have to answer a hurtful email immediately, nor do you have to give someone a piece of your mind at this exact moment. I also get a second opinion if I'm on the fence about how something will come across on text or twitter. Many a time, I've asked a trusted friend "how does this sound?" before hitting send.
Do you have some words of wisdom on the topic? Please leave them in the comments below.