Decision Point: How to Respond to Negative Emails

Posted by Todd Smith

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Over the past year, I have focused on writing posts teaching people the little things they can do to achieve greater personal and professional success.

A respected friend, Don Yoakum, challenged me to write about what he calls “Decision Points”—real-life examples of how I make my decisions and implement these lessons into my life.

Yesterday, I received a demand email from the treasurer of the homeowners association where I own an investment property. It went like this:

Hi All,

The Homeowners Dues are due by Jan 15th. Any payment after that will be subject to a late fee and interest as per our Rules and Regulations docs.

Please drop off or send your dues of $1200.00 for the year or . . .

My immediate reaction was negative. I thought, “How can you send me an email telling me I need to stop everything and cut you a check. You never sent me an invoice! Now, if I don’t write a check immediately, you are going to charge me a late fee and interest.”

My human side wanted to respond with the following email. (I must admit my human side has done this type of thing too many times.)


Why are you sending this late notice demanding an immediate payment without prior notice? I will pay this bill when I pay all other bills on the 25th of the month.


This type of email would have likely aggravated Sue and put her in a defensive position. She may have then sent me a demand email raising my blood pressure resulting in another round of negative emails.

I then thought, she’s a volunteer as part of the association doing the best she can. What good could come from sending her such an email?

Instead, I said to myself, I will treat her with respect and kindness and ask permission to pay this bill when I pay all my other bills. Here is the email I sent her:

Hi Sue,

I hope you are doing well.  My tenants said they really like you.

This is the first notice I have received in reference to our annual fees. Did I overlook one?

Would you please allow me to pay this on the 25th, which is the date I pay my current bills each month?

I hope you have a great 2011.


Here was her response:

Hi Todd,

That’s not a problem. No, you did not overlook anything. I was away and because we changed secretaries the annual notice was never sent.

Your tenants are nice folk, too. I think everyone is settling in.

If you can get it to me before the 28th so I can deposit before the end of the month that would be great.

Happy New Year.


Here are the take-a-ways:

1. When you react negatively to a situation, it has a negative impact on your attitude. When I changed how I was going to respond, my attitude went from being negative to positive in just a few seconds. Remember, where your attention goes, so goes your emotional energy.

2. When I made the DECISION to send a friendly email, I felt better about myself. (I have sent negative emails in the past and not one of them made me feel proud.) When you do things that are right and good, you feel better about yourself.

3. From previous experiences, I know that if I had sent the negative email, I would have remained irritated after sending it, which would have been a waste of my time and emotional energy. When I sent the polite email, I continued on with my day and didn’t think about it again until I got her kind response.

If I had I sent the thoughtless email, I would no doubt recall the depressing experience the next time I saw her name in my email inbox. I would have avoided opening and reading her email until I was in a mental position to deal with the issue.

4. My relationship with her would have been damaged unnecessarily had I sent the negative email and her impression of me would have been tarnished. She might have also sent my email to the board members, asking how she should respond, which would have branded me poorly in all their eyes as well.

The next time someone does something that aggravates you, remember how you respond is your choice. The decision is yours alone. You can respond negatively, pick a fight, and suffer the consequences. Or, you can choose to be kind, considerate, and respectful, and then enjoy the positive feelings of knowing you did the right thing.

Have you had similar experiences? If so, share them in the comments sections below.

The words in your emails say a lot about you and have the power to build up or tear down relationships.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 34 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts.

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