Have you ever had your enthusiasm squashed like a bug on a windshield due to a rude email that landed in your inbox?
Rude emails tend to send us into a blinding rage. But before you grab your laptop and hurl it through a window in order to punish it for ruining your early-morning bliss, we suggest you take a deep breath.
Responding to a rude email is a delicate game that you need to play just right in order to accomplish several goals. Most notable of those are:
- De-escalating the situation,
- Solving the problem, and
- Gaining respect.
However, most of the time, responding to unprofessional emails at work is easier said than done. That’s why today, we’re talking about how you can maintain your composure, remain professional, and expertly deal with the rude person who’s on the other side of an unprofessional email.
In this blog, we’ll cover:
- What falls under the umbrella of unprofessional email etiquette,
- Which different types of rude emails you can find in your inbox,
- How rude emails can impact your well-being (and productivity), and
- How to respond to an angry email.
So, let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
If we’re being frank here, you probably already have (more than) a few answers to this question.
Over the past couple of years, the number of emails we send out on a daily basis has skyrocketed. 2020 alone saw an increase of a whopping 7% due to the pandemic, and that number kept growing over the next few years.
It’s estimated that we, as a society, collectively sent out more than 333 billion emails in 2022.
Now, there isn’t enough data that can tell us how many of those 333 billion emails were rude. Still, it’s only logical to assume that an increase in the number of daily emails a person receives leads to an increase in rude emails as well.
However, not all rude emails are the same. And, we don’t mean that some are mildly annoying while others make you contemplate destruction of company property early in the morning (although that might be a valid categorization as well).
Generally speaking, there are several different types of rude emails. Emails that:
- Use uncivil or condescending language and a demeaning tone,
- Use all caps or exclamation points to convey urgency and attract attention,
- Attack you on a personal level,
- Attack you on a professional level,
- Arrive in your inbox without any greetings,
- Overstep boundaries, and
- Are passive-aggressive.
However, for the purposes of this blog, we can divide all of these into two categories: active and passive.
Actively rude emails are easy to define. There’s really no way that an actively unprofessional email leaves you wondering whether the person on the other end crossed a line or not.
Sometimes, you might even see that an email is rude before you open it.
For example, if an email comes with a subject line like this:
You can immediately see that the person on the other end is so agitated, they decided to temporarily pretend like email etiquette isn’t a thing.
There are different variations of the example above where the sender might:
- Use your name in all caps as the subject line,
- Forgo all types of greetings (like a “hello” at the beginning of an email), or
- Just send an empty email with question marks in the subject line.
It doesn’t even matter what follows — with an opening like this, an email is bound to raise your hackles.
An email can still be actively rude even if it doesn’t have an atrocious subject line. What’s more, even messages that we exchange with our coworkers via team messaging apps can be so unprofessional, they make us simmer with anger.
Those are usually messages that attack us on a personal level or even use impolite language like swearing.
We can clearly see from the example above that Joan had an issue with Nina’s lack of (what she considers) a prompt response.
However, using vulgar language, as well as attacking Nina on a personal level and calling her stupid, definitely constitutes a rude and unprofessional message. It also might make Joan eligible for some anger management classes.
Of course, not all rude emails and messages look like the previous one.
Although many professionals receive messages that attack them on a personal level, crude language and swear words don’t really have a place in the corporate world.
Therefore, there’s also a chance that you find yourself reading an email or a message that’s a bit more subtle than the previous one.
For example, your boss or your coworker might attack your professionalism or question your ability to do your job.
Take a look at how Milo chose a completely unprofessional way to tell Jessica that she did something wrong, thus impling she was negligent.
Passively rude emails aren’t that easy to define. They aren’t as “in your face” as those that arrive with caps lock subject lines, for example.
However, they are still hostile and unprofessional.
A passively rude email might look friendly. It might seem like the other person is just trying to stay in touch or check up on you and your progress.
However, since there are right and wrong ways to check up on someone professionally, you’ll easily recognize when someone is being rude and when they’re just checking in with you out of the goodness of their own hearts.
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
Are you unsure how to check in with your coworkers? Are you scared that your message might seem overly aggressive or condescending? Then read our blog and learn how to check in with other people without getting on their nerves!
Some of the most common passively rude emails people receive are the dreaded passive-aggressive messages. You know, the ones that make you roll your eyes so hard you gain the ability to see into your past lives.
Passive-aggressive people usually use fake politeness or fake kindness in order to communicate their grievances with others.
For example, here’s a message that seems polite and friendly, but is, in fact, passive-aggressive.
Sadly, passive-aggressive messages like the one above are quite common in the corporate world.
Aside from grinding on people’s nerves, passive-aggressive messages also hinder effective communication and make it hard for people to collaborate in an efficient manner.
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
Passive-aggressive communication is the least productive type of communication when it comes to solving conflicts. If you want to know more about how to communicate better with your coworkers and solve problems easier, here are some blog posts that might help:
Sometimes we make a mistake and find ourselves reading a rude or a passive-aggressive email that berates us for our error.
However, at other times, we find ourselves on the wrong end of an impolite message from a coworker, even though they were the ones who messed things up.
That’s often the case with coworkers and teammates who overstep their boundaries. That actually happens more often than we’d like and it’s probably the sole reason the “act your wage” phrase was repurposed to refer to peers who try to boss around their coworkers and act as their superiors.
Having a teammate or a coworker act as if they are above you in the hierarchy is a nuisance. Still, the biggest issue with these people is that they will almost always double down on their efforts to explain or justify their behavior.
Therefore, you might find yourself reading a passively rude message like the one below.
Lastly, the final type of passively rude emails you can receive is a non-reply. There are a couple of types of these messages, where the person on the other end:
- Simply ignores your message, or
- They ignore a part of your message or one of your questions.
Although these non-replies might not seem as rude as an actively impolite (or even aggressive) email, they still fall under the umbrella of unprofessional correspondence.
It’s much easier to answer the question of how to respond to a rude email professionally than it is to uncover the mystery behind the rude emails themselves.
But, let’s give it a go nonetheless.
However, what was supposed to facilitate the exchange of information seems to have made it easier for us to be rude to one another.
In fact, rudeness in the workplace has been on a steady incline for decades now.
Two studies, done in 1988 and 2016, show a staggering difference in numbers — in 1988, around 25% of employees claimed they were being treated or talked to rudely at work, while in 2016, that number climbed to 62%.
One of the proposed reasons for this massive rise in numbers is the fact that the ways we communicate with our coworkers have changed.
In the digital age, we rely on written, electronic communication to relay even the simplest messages and pieces of information to our colleagues.
And, apparently, it’s much easier to be rude to someone when you’re hiding behind a screen than it would be face-to-face.
Thus, we all suffer through endless strings of rude messages and emails.
But, do people really send rude emails just because they feel more empowered to say nasty and impolite things when they don’t have to say it to your face? Is that the only reason?
Actually, it isn’t.
Other options are that the person who sent you a rude email is either:
- Lacking in the social skills department,
- Egotistical and therefore crass, or
- Unaware they are being rude.
A person who isn’t particularly socially adept probably doesn’t know where the line between “appropriate” and “rude” falls.
For example, someone who’s not that good at interpersonal communication might not see an issue with the following message.
You might read that message as condescending and even rude, but Milo might have been trying to pay his coworker a compliment without reading too much into how his words might come across.
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
It’s important to know the difference between poorly worded compliments and microaggressions. If you’re wondering whether you’ve ever been on the receiving end of one of those (and what you should do about it), be sure to read our blog
Of course, it’s not just the socially awkward people who have trouble composing polite messages. People who lack personal resources might also find themselves struggling.
For example, if someone is on a tight deadline and is doing their best to achieve the unachievable and cram fifteen hours of work into a single workday, might not have time for long, polite emails. If they are in “get things done” mode, they might just reply to inquiries in emails with quick, concise answers so they can get on with their more pressing work.
Therefore, they might be unaware that they are being impolite.
The second reason people send rude emails is probably the simplest one of all — they are rude.
Although that might seem too simple, it does boil down to that.
People who have a tendency toward egotistical behavior also tend to send impolite and unprofessional emails. They are usually pretty confident in not only themselves but also their position, which allows them the self-given freedom to not censor themselves.
Alternatively, egotistical people might also think their needs (or tasks and issues) are more important than anything else.
Let’s say you messaged a coworker asking them for clarification on something and received a one-word reply.
Now, most people would consider that rude.
However, stop to think whether that’s their usual style of communication.
We often tend to jump the gun and immediately label someone as rude without giving the person the benefit of the doubt.
We all have different styles of interpersonal communication. In other words, we all tend to have our own little quirks when it comes to how we communicate. Sometimes that reads over email and, at other times, it doesn’t (and we end up being inadvertently rude to someone).
If the coworker in question (the one-word answer one) usually tends to stick to short answers in person as well, you can’t really blame them for sending out a “rude” email.
Electronic communication can oftentimes be difficult to interpret because it’s distant and detached. Remote workers in particular struggle with electronic communication (that’s also the main reason email isn’t the ideal form of communication for remote workers).
More often than we’d like, our jokes or sarcastic remarks don’t read as well-intended on paper (or screen) as they would sound in person.
Take a look at the example below, where one person’s sarcasm wasn’t interpreted as they probably hoped it would be.
Joan probably regretted her poorly worded message the second Milo drowned her in emails with all the minutes from all last week’s meetings.
But, hey, she said she has all the time in the world, right?
This is a classic case of miscommunication or, better said, misinterpretation of a sarcastic message. Joan didn’t take into account that Milo might not pay enough attention to the minutia and tone of her messages.
Therefore, when you receive a message you interpret as rude, ask yourself — is this really rude, or did something get lost in translation?
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
Are you wondering whether your messages at work are being misinterpreted? Maybe you’re worried that your humor might offend somebody? If that’s the case then perhaps it’s time to hone your chatting skills. Here are some tips on how to do that:
When thinking about how to respond to a rude person professionally, many people wonder, “Why should I be polite when they clearly can’t show me the same courtesy?”
And while we understand the urge to deliver a tit when you receive the proverbial tat, there are four reasons you shouldn’t — check them out below.
Sometimes we simply don’t have the luxury of being rude to someone.
Staying professional at all times can help you hone your image. More importantly, it can help you keep your job!
For example, if you’ve received a message from your boss berating you for being late with an assignment or an angry email from a client complaining about his last order, you can’t really afford to give them a piece of your mind, can you?
The best you can do is be apologetic and advocate for yourself in an assertive way.
No matter which industry you work in, patience is a skill you’ll need (sometimes even desperately). That’s especially true for anyone who works directly with people (or worse, customers).
Trust us, there’s no better way to practice patience than trying to find a polite way to respond to an email that left you more enraged than a Game of Thrones fan after that dreadful Season 8 finale.
Dealing with people means dealing with both the good and the bad. No matter how good your people skills are, practicing them by exercising restraint in situations like these is never a bad thing.
Being able to respond in a polite manner even when faced with an obstacle (like an unprofessional email) is a great soft skill to have.
Everything you do at work impacts your professional image. People evaluate the entirety of your personal and professional skills and assess what type of coworker or employee you are.
Maintaining composure and a professional tone when confronted with a rude message is vital for your professional image. It will help you gain respect from both your peers and those above you in the professional hierarchy.
Now that we’ve figured out what constitutes a rude email and why you should bother maintaining your composure, it’s time to get to the nitty-gritty of today’s topic — how to respond to a rude email professionally.
It’s important to know that there is no sample reply to unprofessional emails that will help you deal with every situation where you receive rude messages.
Sadly, each of them is unique and requires an equally individual response.
However, there are some tips you can use that will help you craft the perfect reply.
The first tip we have for you might sound annoying, but it’s actually helpful.
When faced with an impolite email, the best thing you can do is take a deep breath.
That gives you a few extra seconds that will (hopefully) stop you from making a rash decision (like typing out a dozen or so swear words and sending them back).
If the breathing doesn’t work, give yourself more time.
You can’t let your emotions rule you, because getting into a heated argument over email or a team messaging app won’t do anyone any good.
You’ll spend valuable time and energy arguing with someone without working on solving the issue at hand — which probably prompted the original rude email in the first place.
So, take your time when it comes to crafting a reply. Take a short walk or, if you can’t, do some other, menial tasks that will take your mind off of it.
Once you’ve gotten your emotions under control, read the email again.
As mentioned, sometimes the messages we send get misinterpreted. Innocent jokes or sarcastic remarks can turn into huge issues.
Re-reading the email gives you a chance to look at it objectively, without the simmering cloud of rage that probably appeared the first time you read it.
So, do that, and ask yourself whether the things you interpret as rude or unprofessional were written to sound like that?
An email or a message can be rude and still make valid points. That’s why it’s essential that you consider what the person on the other end is trying to say.
More often than not, there’s a problem or an issue they are trying to address. Sure, they are going about it in all the wrong ways, but does their point still stand?
If you receive an unprofessional message that’s calling you out on a mistake you made, you can’t completely discard the remark just because it came in like a wrecking ball and ruined your day.
However, if the mistake wasn’t yours, then make sure to prepare your defense. Gather all the evidence you might need in order to explain yourself.
Taking responsibility for someone else’s mistake won’t solve the issue at hand. First of all, you really shouldn’t do that. Second, if you didn’t make the mistake, it’s highly unlikely that you can solve the aftermath.
Is the message you received urgent? If not, consider ignoring it.
Of course, this isn’t always an option. Sometimes we simply can’t afford to ignore someone’s messages (no matter how rude they may be).
But if you can, delay responding to the message as long as you can. That might also give the person on the other side a chance to go back to it, re-read it, and maybe reword it.
Of course, the latter will only happen in the case that the rudeness was unintentional. If it wasn’t, then you’re just delaying the inevitable.
If the message you received was not only rude but also abusive or insulting, consider escalating the issue to your manager or to the HR team in your company.
Just in case, we’d also suggest making a copy of the email or a screenshot of the message in question.
Reporting someone for unprofessional behavior to HR isn’t always an option (although it should be).
Therefore, you’re often left to deal with other people’s rudeness on your own.
If that’s the case here, our next tip is to write down anything and everything that comes to mind. All those nasty remarks that went through your head as you were reading the rude email in the first place (yes, including that particularly vulgar thought) — write it all down.
But, don’t send it.
This is an excellent way to blow off some steam and get rid of negative emotions associated with the email in question (and the person who sent it).
If you followed all of our tips, you are now finally ready to come up with professional responses to a rude email.
To do that, all you need is a simple 5-step guide.
As mentioned before, the number one rule of responding to an angry email is to maintain your composure. So, be polite.
Just because they were rude doesn’t mean you have to respond with rudeness.
Therefore, start your reply with a kind greeting. It should be relatively formal and somewhat friendly.
However, make sure not to overdo it, because that might read as a bit condescending.
For example, openings like:
“Hi, thank you for your message.”
are much better ways to start than with “Hello there, thanks so much for reaching out and letting me know about this problem!”
As you can see, the second message sounds patronizing and forced.
More often than not, you’ll find yourself on the nasty end of a rude email because there’s an issue or a problem that either requires your attention or that you’ve caused.
Own up to your mistakes or address the issue in a respectful manner. Show the sender that you understand what the problem is. Moreover, show them that you accept responsibility for the issue at hand.
Here’s an example of how you can do that.
Ensure that you maintain a professional tone even when you want to be passive-aggressive (or just straight-up aggressive).
We won’t lie to you — that will probably be the hardest part of replying to unprofessional emails at work.
Remember, to stay professional:
- Keep your emotions in check,
- Don’t point fingers (and accuse the other party of being intentionally rude),
- Don’t get defensive, and
- Stick to the facts.
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
Interpersonal communication isn’t always easy, especially in remote teams. To ensure that you’re communicating clearly with your colleagues, brush up on your communication skills. This Pumble blog post might help you
The most important step of replying to a rude message is addressing the original intent behind the message.
Keep a solutions-based mindset while writing your reply.
But sometimes, people send rude emails because they find themselves in a desperate position.
Faced with a problem, they become overwhelmed and temporarily forget that, even in dire circumstances, they are supposed to (at least pretend to) be professional. So, you end up with a rude email describing an issue that seems unsolvable to the sender.
Of course, if the issue at hand isn’t yours, you shouldn’t drop everything to solve other people’s problems.
However, offering a solution might help the person who sent the message see that their issue might not be as life-changing as they deem it to be.
Since you started the email or the message politely, and maintained a professional demeanor the entire time, you should end your message in the same manner.
You can use some of these examples:
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
“Thanks for checking in with me and letting me know about this problem.”
“I appreciate your reaching out to me about this.”
Rude messages can increase your stress levels and lower your productivity. However, if you train yourself to respond to them in a professional manner, you won’t have any trouble moving on with your day.
Keep in mind that a professional demeanor and quick and efficient conflict-solving are the fundamental factors that contribute to building trust in the workplace. That’s why it’s essential to be polite and professional.
With that in mind, pay attention to the following additional tips on how to respond to an angry email or a message.
Being on the receiving end of a rude message isn’t a pleasant place to be. Still, your objective should be to deescalate the situation.
Therefore, don’t create more drama by adding more people to the discussion. Unless the email you received is particularly rude, disrespectful, or discriminatory in nature, don’t CC your manager or members of the HR team.
Try to resolve the issue with the person who sent the email as efficiently and quickly as possible.
The urge to send your work BFF a message with a screenshot of the rude email is strong. We get it.
Still, you should resist it.
Sharing the rude message will just create additional drama or create office gossip. And that’s not really professional, is it?
As mentioned, digital communication can be distant and detached. We often say things differently in an email than we would in real life.
Electronic communication via email is also delayed. That’s why it’s sometimes prudent to seek out other means of communication.
Sometimes reaching out via a call or in person, or even using quicker and more efficient means of communication, like a business communication app, can help you resolve the issue quicker.
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
Are you unsure whether you should call your coworker or start a video call with them? Check out this Pumble blog:
Hopefully, the tips, tricks, and examples we assembled for you in this blog post will help you stay as cool as a cucumber and politely and professionally reply to every rude email or message that dares darken your door (or your inbox).
But, to give you an extra helping hand, Pumble has ensured you can stay respectful and professional when faced with rude messages.
Pumble — a team communication and collaboration app — has 3 features that you’ll surely find helpful:
- Mute conversations, so you can block out those coworkers who have gotten up on the rude side of the bed, and
- No “Seen” option, so your rude coworkers won’t know that you’ve seen their message, giving you plenty of time to compose yourself and think of an appropriate response, and
- Edit messages feature — just in case you send a hasty (and overly rude) reply.
With Pumble, professional communication is a piece of cake!