Let’s assume you know what you’re doing.
You know the risks of writing in anger.
You are aware that, unlike in-person conversations, written communication
does not allow you to respond to body language or to modify your tone and
approach as you go. You know that whatever you write "stays indelibly
clear for an indefinite period," to quote author David Ewing, that over
time your words will lose none of their immediacy.
But this particular situation is
exceptional. Despite the insufficiency and the rigidity of the written
word, you decide to express your anger in writing.
Now, given your thoughtful, rational
nature, you don’t just sit down to your keyboard and blast away; you
carefully consider your purpose and how best to achieve it.
Recalling your training as a skilled
communicator, you follow this formula:
Depending on your strategy, you open
abruptly, or perhaps you begin somewhat indirectly, with a words such as,
"I’m sorry to complain, but . . ." Either way, you state your purpose
clearly and unambiguously. Your language is noninflammatory. Your tone is
firm but respectful.
of the problem
You describe the problem, again using
noninflammatory language. You focus on actions and consequences rather
than on personality and character. You avoid questioning your reader’s
intelligence, competence, or ethics, unless such questioning or personal
evaluation is the main point of your complaint.
If the problem is cumulative, you
provide a specific, detailed, accurate record of occurrences. If the
problem relates to a single event, you concentrate on the issue at hand
rather than provide a laundry list of incidental grievances.
of reader’s position
Depending on your rhetorical strategy,
you acknowledge your reader’s position. You point out, however, that it is
invalid in this situation.
solution and threatened consequences
You are clear and specific about the
action you want your reader to take. You know that your request is
reasonable and within your reader’s power or capability. If your purpose
is to present an ultimatum, you end your letter with words to this effect:
"If this problem is not resolved, I will have no recourse but to . . ."
The consequences you threaten are relevant and proportionate to the
If you hope to preserve good relations
with your reader, you conclude on a hopeful note. You express your desire
to put the matter behind you. You emphasize the mutual benefits of finding
a satisfactory solution. Perhaps you allude to your personal regard for
your reader or to the satisfactory nature of your previous relationship.
Now, you’ve written your letter, but you
resist the urge to send it immediately. You know one negative word carries
the weight of 10 positive ones, and you know you will be more sensitive to
your tone if you reread your text after you have let it go cold.
Finally, you send your letter. And what
If you’re lucky, your reader responds
with an apology and agrees to take the desired action. Even if your reader
has said something that annoys or angers you, you write a letter thanking
your reader for resolving the issue, and you disregard everything else.
But what usually happens?
You receive an angry letter in return.
Here’s my advice:
fire off another angry letter.
□Reread the other person’s letter
the next day. Chances are, it won’t sound as angry and unreasonable as it
did when you first read it.
□If your reader has offered a
compromise, consider accepting it.
your reader has refused to cooperate in any way, write a brief letter
describing the actions you are taking. If you don’t follow through, don’t
expect to be taken seriously the next time you complain about something.