Don’t Get Triggered By Email Triggers

A good friend once said, “Not every email writer is a word lover.” This couldn’t be more true.

The situation I had was simple, but my reaction was anything but.

What Happened

A co-worker went on leave the day after I sent one of those “Hi, we need to start this process moving” emails late in the day. I didn’t even think about the timing of it until the next day when she was already gone.

Now, this co-worker would always respond to tell me the process was moving, and this time I didn’t receive a response. As her Out of Office message the next day said to send all emails to the temporary assistant and copy the boss, I duly forwarded my email. I also added a note that I was only forwarding because I wasn’t sure if this got in under the wire.

The boss replied to us both with sundry directions to the temp.

The temp replied just to me with, “I already took care of this, but thank you for the reminder.”

Something about this email gave me pause. Somehow it sounded just that little bit prickly, just a touch defensive.

But was it?

What I Did About It

I sat on it. That’s what I do when something puzzles me–and this has saved me more times than I can count. I filed it away in the back of my mind until the day after, when it was still in my email and I remembered I still wasn’t sure what the deal was.

So I asked a trusted friend who has a superior relationship with words.

What the Answer Is

Trusted Friend said, “‘Already’ can be a tricky word when used in emails, because it can have some negative connotations.” He added that he didn’t think that was the case here.

And he’s right. Not only about the “already,” but because just a single day’s grace completely changed my perspective. The temp’s response was, strictly speaking, in keeping with a business email. And as I re-read it now, it doesn’t seem defensive at all.

What the Solution Is

Email itself is tricky whether we’re sending or receiving. Without all the helpful non-verbals and para-verbals of body language and tone, we’re left with just the bald words staring up at us from the screen–and all of our own preexisting triggers looking right back at them.

We all have to watch out for our own email etiquette, but we should also pay attention to our own potentially-misplaced reactions to other people’s words. When you’re dashing off a response during your busy day, are you adding an unintentionally defensive tone? Did you read an implied rebuke in words that were actually harmless?

How do your own words stand up?


Pic from here.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Get Triggered By Email Triggers

  1. I have a friend that writes emails in a, “Just the facts Ma’am,” format and it took me a long time to get used to it. I spent many an afternoon wondering if they were mad at me.


  2. Beyond innocuous. My reaction would have been “Good-o, one less thing for me to worry about,” but I am not you. Also, I’ve been anesthetized to any possibly ambiguous semantics in emails by receiving some undisguised bile from people who leave you in no doubt as to their intended tone.

    When you’re on the receiving end of one of those, then the above seems extremely trivial. And when you do get a genuine dose of vitriol, the best way to respond is to give it right back to them.


    • “Undisguised bile”–such an evocative phrase, and it’s a shame such things were ever sent to you. I can see how that would anesthetize a person to something such as what I got.


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