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How To Write An Effective Email When You're Really Upset

By Rick Siderfin

· Writing,communication,Effectiveness

A key supplier or business partner has just let you down in a big, big, way. It's put you in an impossible situation with your customers. You are probably going to lose some business as a direct result of this.

You tried speaking to your usual contacts at the supplier but they don't appear to be bothered. Need to speak to someone higher up, you think.

You cannot get hold of the MD on the phone to discuss with him. So your only remaining way of getting a message to him is via email.

Careful. By now there should be warning lights flashing all over. On email, even more than on the phone, it is very easy to alienate the other party. Don't burn your bridges. Resist the temptation to say what you are thinking.

Here's how to write an effective email that has an impact and gets the results you need - without making you look like a loser. 

  1. Stick to bare facts. Strip out all emotive words. For example: "The goods were ordered on the 20th of October. At the time we were informed that delivery would be within 4 weeks, so we were expecting them to arrive yesterday. On chasing them this morning, we were told that they won't be here until December." Another good way to remove emotion and feelings from the email is to make it very personal, from you to the person that can help you, with no one else copied in. CC'ing your whole department and theirs too might make you feel good, but you have just increased the pressure and the stakes by doing so - and quite possibly reduced your chances of success at the same time. 
  2. Remove any accusations or character assassinations. Don't point fingers and implicate people. It just makes you look petty. Describe the chain of events, certainly, but hold back from criticising anyone involved. The facts will speak for themselves in any case.
  3. Appeal for understanding. Try to get the recipient to imagine what it would be like to be in your shoes. "As I'm sure you will appreciate, this has put me in a really difficult position. Our customers were assured of delivery today and now we have to tell them that it has been delayed until next month."
  4. Suggest a possible solution, but don't be unreasonable. Now it is your turn to put yourself in their shoes. What could be done to make the situation better? There is no profit to be gained from making requests that the supplier could not possibly achieve, even supposing they were inclined to. "I understand that it won't be possible for you to produce the goods any faster. I wondered if you would consider sending xxxx in their place, so that at least the customers are not let down completely?"
  5. Reiterate your support. Tell the recipient that you don't want this incident to endanger the business relationship at all. Consider mentioning how long you have been a customer and what you spend with them. Perhaps mention that you have many projects lined up for the future which will be of benefit to the supplier if this can be worked through.
  6. Go back through the message and strip out any unnecessary bits. Long epistles won't be read, far less acted upon. Keep it as short as possible. Paragraph breaks help make chunks of text easier to digest. 

Finally, you should save the email to drafts, and if possible, sleep on it. If that's not possible, just take a quick break and then return to your desk and read through it once more before sending. There is a good chance that you will be able to greatly improve the email if you do this. Make sure the tone is respectful and businesslike.

During this final check through, ensure the subject line is completely relevant and that you have included all the information the recipient will need to hopefully make a decision without even having to look anything else up. Attach supporting documentation if necessary and helpful to the recipient.

You'll get much more respect and you will protect rather than endanger long-term relationships by taking account of these few points.

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