I recently had the privilege to speak about new media in front of a group of international civic leaders from East Asia and the Pacific for the Meridian International Center. One of the participants, Hong Kong Unison Executive Director Fermi Wong asked me how to respond to people during abusive emails. My answer, “Don’t!”
As David Meerman Scott wrote in Real-Time Marketing & PR, “Some people are just plain crazy, and you don’t want to get dragged into dialogue with a psycho.”
My response to Fermi was the same. It is critical to engage consumers and stakeholders when a problem occurs involving your product or organization, but not everyone who contacts you is sane or willing to listen. These individuals are not coming to you to solve the problem. They are simply trying to start a fight.
The following quotes are from my favorite two wacko emails that I have received to date while I was working for SPJ:
“(TH)ANKS for PROOF you pieces of [censored] are NOTHING more than leftist mouthpieces! Objective's [CENSORED]! YOU ALL are a DISGRACE to what journalism ONCE stood for!!” ... “Get it through your Idealistic Liberal Communist Marxist heads. [censor]ing Idiots!!!!”These types of emails are typically filled with irrational statements, expletives and other non-coherent ramblings. I chose to highlight these two messages in particular because they are humorously as polarizing as it gets. The truth is that no good can ever come from responding to these types of emails. In fact, here are a couple of things to remember next time you receive a wacko email like these:
“Professional journalism in America . . ha ha ha ha . . . let me guess . . . war is holy, muslims are evil, liberals are traitors, Bush is God, and lies are truth. There!. did i win "Best Journalist in America" award? Please, Tell me I won.”
- Let it go – It’s not as personal as it seems though it often seems like it is. The sender of the email may try to say things that single you out, but they are only trying bully an irrational response from you. The second you forget that is the moment you fall into their reality and become their puppet.
- Your time is valuable – The more time you spend fuming over this email is time that you’ve lost and can never get back.
- Tell a colleague – Sometimes venting to a co-worker is the best medicine if someone has written you an email that seems too particularly overwhelming.
- If you ever do respond, NEVER respond with your gut – When we respond impulsively, we do so honestly and often irrationally. If you find yourself in a situation where a response is imperative, remember that the responder will do everything in their power to twist what you say. With that said, never editorialize, take your time in crafting a well-thought message and only provide the facts.
It’s also important to understand that you’re NOT alone! When Fermi asked me about these types of individuals, I shared my own experiences with her and so did many of the other civic leaders in the room. It was a very reassuring moment for all of us and I hope this post does the same for you.
Editors Note: When this post was published yesterday evening, the word "right" was used instead of the proper word "rite" due to what I refer to as "jet lag" mixed with exhaustion. Apologies for the clerical error.