Q: You send an e-mail to a friend, and your friend misreads it as snarky. He’s upset, but you meant no harm. How do you handle it?


A: Pick up the phone, or meet face-to-face if you can, and the first thing you do is apologize. Then go back through the e-mail and offer to give additional information and context; the “why” of the intended message is always easier to explain in person.

In the future, if you have any concern that your e-mail may be misinterpreted, have a conversation instead. Over the phone is good; face-to-face is better. That way, instead of just the words you use, the person you’re talking to has a visual message, facial expressions and body language, as well as your tone of voice, pace and volume.

JULIE BLAIS COMEAU, business etiquette expert


A: While e-mail is a fast, efficient form of communication, it should come with a warning label. I have recommendations for when your words are taken the wrong way by a colleague, client or family member.

1. Pause before you respond to the recipient’s angry response. Carefully reread what you sent, considering the words from the recipient’s point of view, so that you are clear on what created the problem.

2. Reach out to the other person. Sending another e-mail is OK if that’s your only option, but in most cases, a phone call or an in-person meeting serves you best.

3. Be sincere in your desire to set things right. Don’t become defensive. That will lead to a greater war of words. Ask questions like, “What can I do to resolve this?” That signals that you are prepared to take responsibility for the misunderstanding.

4. Be willing to apologize and accept blame even if you don’t believe it was your fault.

In the future, craft your e-mail messages with care to make sure you don’t inadvertently create another misunderstanding. It’ll be worth the extra time and effort, especially if you value the relationship and want to rebuild trust.

LYDIA RAMSEY, etiquette and modern manners expert