The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.23

Saturday, June 10, 2023

The one golden rule of digital communications (you should never break)

In digital communications - email, messages, social media and so on - there’s one golden rule you should never break. In this article I show you what it is, and how to handle it when you’re on the receiving end.

I’m not going to leave you hanging - here it is:

The one golden rule of digital communications: never send an email or text (or any other form of digital communication) when you’re upset.

And we’ve all been there. You get an email or text that leaves you steaming. You bang out an angry reply and off it goes…

The result? Now there are two people even more upset / angry / hurt than they were before.

The biggest problem with digital communications

Most digital communications are fine. But when emotions are at play, you’re banging words on a keyboard that lack the other 90% of factors that make communication effective.

Just think about it: you’re trying to express emotions in written words.

In the heat of the moment, we express our feelings without thinking about how the message will come across in written form. We may use words that hurt the other person. We say things we later regret. And we’re not thinking clearly - the fog of emotions has rolled in.

When we speak to someone face to face, we subconsciously rely on a host of factors to tune the conversation as it progresses.

In digital communications, we don’t have those factors.

There are no visual cues (body language, facial expressions) that tell you how the message is being received. There is no opportunity for immediate clarification. The recipient of the message has to create the context, make assumptions about where the sender is coming from, and interpret the written words from their world view.

So expressing our emotions in written form is tough to start with. And it gets even more difficult when we’re upset.

Words from a wise man

A wise colleague told me many years ago:

When you send an angry email (text, post, etc), all that happens is that there are now two people who are upset. But when you speak to them face to face (or even on the phone), there is at least a chance you can sort the situation out.

These words have stuck with me all my life (thanks Tim). And I have to be honest - they stuck with me because I was guilty of sending angry emails, and had to deal with the consequences after the fact.

I had to learn the lesson the hard way.

How not to send an angry email (text, post, etc)

There are always things that upset us. Work, personal life, just walking in the street. This is life, and we have to deal with it.

But when it comes to digital communications, we have a choice.

  • By all means, write your angry email / text / post.
  • But don’t send it - walk away from it.
  • Come back in 30 minutes, couple of hours, or even better, come back tomorrow.
  • If you still feel the same way, you may still want to send it.
  • Chances are you won’t.

Here’s why this works:

Emotions are highly time-sensitive. For most people, everyday emotions will dissipate within a couple of hours.

Use this knowledge to help you deal with your emotions. Walk away from the keyboard, and come back when you feel calmer. In this calmer state of mind, your emotional email / text / post will probably seem out of place.

How to respond to an angry email (text, post, etc)

You have two options:

  • Don’t respond at all.
  • Respond with: “Can we talk about this?”

The option you choose will depend on the circumstances. Sometimes it’s just better not to respond at all, for example when someone posts a snarky comment on a blog post.

If you do choose to respond, keep it short and simple.

Note the suggestion above: “Can we talk about this?” It could have read “You seem upset, can we walk about this?” If you add the “you seem upset” bit, you’re opening the door for them to go on the defensive (or the attack, depending on their personality). This only leads to more angry exchanges (or a cold shoulder). But the more neutral “can we talk about this” is a yes or no choice.

If you can, let some time pass before talking about it.

Their (and your) emotions will usually not be as strong when a couple of hours (or days) have passed. In some cases you may not even have to talk about it at all.


The golden rule: never send an email or text (or any other form of digital communication) when you’re upset.

If you’re about to initiate it, walk around the block. Give your emotions time to stabilize.

If you’re on the receiving end, don’t respond, or just respond with “can we talk?”

Use this in your work life and your personal life.

Hope this helps.