Don’t Get Emotional When You Read This- If You Can


I received an email from a colleague last week. It was brutal. Blistering. Vitriolic even. Anger oozed out of it. Accusations abounded. My heart sank. Because I knew what would happen next. I knew the outcome. And it saddened me. Do you? Here it is.

I once worked with a very wise man, Paul Cocks. In fact, we’re still colleagues- just one step removed. I owe him much, and love him dearly. He was an important mentor to me a decade ago. His insight into people is what I remember most. And he quickly sized me up as a hot head- someone who would fire up quickly, get emotional, and attack.

His advice, which he gave me many times when he saw steam coming from my ears, was this:

“Give it the 24 hour test.”

It was as simple as that. Before reacting, before sending that blistering email, sit on sending or making your response for 24 hours. Re-read it 24 hours later, and – guaranteed- you will be shocked at what you wrote, and change it dramatically.

Emotions can be your friend or your enemy. They can drive you to glory or to destruction. They can galvanize or confuse you. Fatigue, emotion and greed will cause bad decisions. Know it. Watch out for it.

Now, I have learnt it does not need 24 hours to make a better judgment. Two hours is fine. I have trained myself to recognize the signs of my emotional explosions, to say ‘Chris- there it is, here it comes- now, take control,’ and then what I do next is to vent- I like to write the response email, with all its harshness and fury, or make notes on what I will say to someone, and expletives abound. This makes me feel so much better. And then I park it- for even two hours. That’s all it needs for a more measured, sensible, appropriate and smarter response to become apparent.

Now- if I was really able, I’d be much more mature in controlling the way I respond to things in the first place. But I have not got there yet. I still respond instinctively, and often that is to get emotional. I am, though, getting much better at understanding myself, managing that emotion, pausing before reacting, and making better judgments after that pause. Not yet a poster boy for it- but getting better.

And that’s why I felt sad when I got my colleague’s email. I knew, from the moment he sent it, he was thinking: “Oh shit- that was possibly not the smartest thing to do. Wish I could withdraw it. I wonder how Chris will react?” He would have had butterflies in his stomach- would have been nervous and anxious about my response. And he’s too good a guy to have to feel that way.

I delayed responding. He wrote again a few hours later (after a good night’s sleep), apologizing and putting his frame of mind in perspective. My heart was with him. I knew how he felt, I knew what had happened, and was absolutely on his side. I have been there many times before.

But far fewer times since Paul told me a decade ago to ‘Give it the 24 hour test.’ It’s made my life a lot easier, not having to nervously await responses to emails I wish I’d never sent. Give it a go. It helps.

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26 Responses to Don’t Get Emotional When You Read This- If You Can

  1. Sally Mlikota December 3, 2014 at 10:25 am #

    Yikes, resonates strongly with me too!! Like you I am aware, and making slow progress….

    • Chris Savage December 3, 2014 at 11:11 am #

      Thanks Sally!

  2. Jaqui Lane December 3, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    Chris, I’ve developed a similar approach. I call it the ‘One sleep, or Two sleep’ strategy. And I apply this to things in my non-business life as well. I’ve also found it helps because it allows me to assess the reasons behind the comment/email, my own role, or otherwise in why the person has sent it and then how I can work through it to achieve an outcome that works…if that’s possible. Breathing helps too.

    • Chris Savage December 3, 2014 at 11:10 am #

      Thanks Jaqui- great ideas! Chris

  3. Apryl December 3, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    This is quite different, in my opinion, to your usual posts. But it sure did resonate with my “hot headed” self. I have employed the wait strategy for about 5 years and its saved me (and possibly my career) on many occasions. Like you though, I am no master – not sure I ever will be – but self awareness goes a long way in helping me each and every day.Thanks for reminding me I am not alone and for reposding to your colleague with understanding and not anger!

    • Chris Savage December 3, 2014 at 11:10 am #

      Thanks Apryl. Chris

  4. Chris Braddon December 3, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    Good article. I can totally relate to this and have trained myself to do the same. An old mentor once told me what I believe is a twist on an old proverb: “Think Rationally, Act Passionately. The other guide is: Don’t write something in an email that you wouldn’t be prepared to say to the person face to face.

    • Chris Savage December 3, 2014 at 11:11 am #

      Chris- true we ensuring what you write you’d be prepared to say face-to-face! Chris

  5. Jane Young December 3, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Thanks Chris, I am quite a “hot head” at times myself. I desperately wish that I was more measured and calm but I think i am getting better and find the saving the email to drafts trick works well, occasionally I still press send and always regret it. Must try harder! I am lucky enough to have a mentor who is extremely good at not letting emotions get the best of him and he always sees the other persons point of view.. I’ll be honest I don’t know how he does it half the time but I’m trying to emulate his ways!!

    • Chris Savage December 3, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      I know what you mean, Jane. I still send the ‘hot’ email often enough….but am making progress to catch myself, give it a rest, and revisit. Chris

  6. Sarah Hyland December 3, 2014 at 11:36 am #

    Great advice, Chris. I enjoyed this post. Reminds of a line from a film :
    ” Feelings are like kids. You don’t want them driving the car, but you don’t want to stuff them in the trunk, either.”

    • Chris Savage December 3, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

      Ha! Thanks Sarah!

  7. Rob Morrison December 3, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Another great wrestle Chris – thank you. My favourite ‘cool head prevails’ technique is to avoid filling in the “To:” field. That way you can’t hit “Send” until you’re truly, fully, 100% ready. Which is usually never. Saved me more than once. R..

    • Chris Savage December 3, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

      Thanks Rob- I like that idea.

  8. Gael Oliveres December 3, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Spot on! Many times have I found myself replying emails in haste with an outpour of emotions – but luckily after writing the email, many times I have managed to stop myself from pressing send, kept that email on the side and move on to another task for the time being, and upon returning to that email, found myself wanting to rewrite it completely. Perhaps its the fact that I got to put my thoughts down on paper and got to somehow express how I felt (even though it will never be heard) but this 24 hour test would certainly help give me space to think and focus on other things instead of wasting time writing that email which in the end will never be sent. Thanks for the tip Chris!

    • Chris Savage December 3, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

      Thanks Gael- good to hear from you. Hope all is going well in KL. Chris

  9. Russ December 3, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    Great post! ‘Never send an angry email’!! We try to make it a mantra at our place. Even if you decide after two hours you still have every right to be angry, you’ll write a better and more useful note for having calmed down and got your thoughts in order.

    See also ‘why not just pick up the phone’, ‘don’t use cc to dob people in’. ‘watch out for passive aggressive’ and ‘never mind what you meant, is that how they will read it’.

    In a world where we increasingly use mail, chat, text etc. to have conversations in real time, these kinds of skills are only going to become more critical. I even left this post an hour or two and re-read it before hitting submit ; )

    • Chris Savage December 3, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

      Thanks Russ. A neighbour of mine told me he has trained himself to simply keep his responses to inflammatory emails very short, and very bland. Another good tool. Chris

  10. Paulette Steele December 3, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    I just wrote about the same thing myself the other day when I was talking about the Art of Communication. I actually said ‘Don’t reply to an email when you’re angry for instance.’

    Like everyone else, I’ve felt like letting go at someone when I’ve read certain emails. However, I realized years ago it’s not a good idea to do that. So I just get up and go for a walk to calm down. Then I sit down and write an appropriate response.

    When I used to work with China factories, I needed to use this method repeatedly. After not receiving any reply to my emails chasing shipment info or whatever, out of the blue I’d get an email saying it was going to be late or other disastrous news. They gave some amazing reasons as well but that’s another subject. So I had to calmly reply that I understood their situation before I could mention the issues from my end. Otherwise I wouldn’t hear back from them.

    • Chris Savage December 4, 2014 at 8:50 am #

      Thanks Paulette. Interesting story about your China experience… patience required indeed! Chris

    • Chris Savage December 22, 2014 at 10:17 am #

      You too, Paulette.

  11. Christian Wilkins December 3, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    Great post and great advice. I’m lucky enough to be hot headed but with a fairly quick cool down period, so the 2 hour test is adequate time to reflect.

    • Chris Savage December 4, 2014 at 8:50 am #

      Thanks Christian.

  12. Susan Jones December 3, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    Thanks Chris. Your message was a good one and one that I have been practicing myself. I am usually so impatient to respond, get it off my chest, get my thoughts out there …… when sometimes that isn’t the most beneficial or productive decision. I too am learning to sleep on it.

    • Chris Savage December 4, 2014 at 8:50 am #

      Thanks Susan!

    • Chris Savage December 22, 2014 at 10:20 am #

      Thanks Susan

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