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How To Respond To The Five Email Types

File. Ok. Let's Discuss. Sounds Good. Pick Up The PHONE.

Email remains the dominant communication channel in the workplace. The question is how to we improve effective response rate.

"The optimal email length is 250 words (1 minute to read) or less. Employees will read longer emails, but less of them." PoliteMail

Below are the five most common email types I experienced in the corporate world, and a guide on to respond appropriately

Type One: The Document Email.

This method is used to memorialize, broadcast, or supply supporting documentation.


Dear Tonya,

Attached please find a summary of our meeting and the requested information....

How to Write

  • Write a 1-2 sentence preamble.

  • Indent and use bullets to format supporting information.

  • Attach and hyperlink applicable documents.

How To Respond if you are the Recipient

  • Reply, "Thank you."

  • File accordingly.


Note: If it is a broadcast email, do not respond. WARNING: Do Not Reply All.

Type Two: The Bully/Vindicative/Create a Fire Email.

The purpose of this type of email is to bully, sabotage, or cover one's backside.

Example 1 - Boss and Employee

Once I had a supervisor that was not the brightest bulb in the pack. In short, he was a bully. One day, he asked me to send recruitment statistics to him. I did.

His Email response: WRONG.  

I appreciated his pointed email. However, my first reaction was emotional. Was I wrong? I was scared I made a mistake. I reviewed all the materials. The information was accurate. When fear subsided anger entered stage left. "Who the hell does this jackass think he is talking to? The nerve of that bum to send 'WRONG' to me." I yelled internally.

HR Note: Remember it is not illegal to be an a**hole. You may not respect the person but must respect the position and the Company.

How to Respond

  • Do not respond for a minimum of 20 minutes.

  • Read the email aloud in a silly voice. This breaks the tension.

  • When you are calm, you can respond --

  • Let's discuss this at your convenience.

The sender wanted to elicit an emotional response. What happens when you respond emotionally? You usually make a mistake. Reacting calmly heightens the emotions the sender used. Result: The sender appears unstable.

Side Note: I printed and framed that WRONG email. Every time someone would ask me a question, I would smile and say, "WRONG". Making a bully look ridiculous is the best way to take their power away. "RIGHT".

Example 2 - The Vindicative Email

Years ago, I received an email on Christmas Eve at 4 pm. The email was addressed to the CEO, my boss at the time, a fake attorney, and me. The sender was part of an HR investigation. He was angry from the moment I said "Hello" to him. He thought it was beneath him to talk with HR. My explanations of "Best Practices" did not matter.

"Dear CEO,

I demand an investigation in the HR Dept Best Practices. I am a C-Suite member and to even question my methods is harassment. The HR Dept was not professional. I've included my attorney in this email. I want to meet with all parties asap."

The sender wanted to upset my holidays. He understood that the office was closed for Christmas week. He knew nothing could be addressed until after the holiday.

Naturally, I was emotional. Did I do something WRONG? I reviewed our conversation over and over. (He succeeded in disrupting my holidays as I spend unnecessary time away from my family.)

Luckily my CEO was cool. He called me right away and said C-Suite man is huffing and puffing to blow the HR House down. Thankfully, my CEO knew what C-Suite Man was doing.

The sender's goal was to disrupt my holiday. He had no intention of solving a problem. In fact, there was no problem.

How to Respond

  • Let's discuss upon return.

  • Enjoy your holiday.

(C-Suite Man was flying to Bermuda by this time.) When he returned, he forgot he sent it - yeah, right.)

Type Three: The No Work Show-Off AKA Sheep in Wolf's Clothing Email.

The Sheep in Wolves Clothing aka the No Work Show Off. The purpose of this email is to take a non-issue, pour gasoline on it, blow it up, and blame you.

Side Note: The good thing about most CEOs and veteran C-Suite members, they know when someone is lighting a fire to keep the flames off of them. In fact, the email probably was deleted immediately. They have bigger fish to fry.

How To Respond

  • Ok.

  • Call the sender. Show concern and offer to schedule a meeting with all parties to discuss. This is calling the sender's bluff. 9 times out of 10, that meeting will never happen.

By replying "Ok" you acknowledge their email and confuse them. What issue are your writing ok to?

Coaching: These emails hurt. They are electronic sucker punches.

  • Read it aloud twice.

  • The first time you read it, read in a snarky voice.

  • The second time you read it read it in a Mary Poppin's voice.

  • Get back to work.

Type Four: Gaslighting

The Gaslighting Email – This is used when employee does not like the new direction the company is going in.

Perhaps, the office was informal, but HR was hired to formalize procedures. Now. This employee was not really working full-time hours, was hiring friends without experience, or didn’t actually know how to do their job.  

Special Note: The gaslighting email and the sheep in wolf's clothing are similar. The key difference is the gaslighting email is written to present the sender as an innocent victim.

"The tyranny of the weak over the strong. It is the only tyranny that lasts.” 

Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance 


HR was directed to reorganize the recruitment department. The recruiters did not like idea of change. Unfortunately, they shot their bullets at the wrong target, the HR Lady. It was an executive decision.

Remember: HR makes recommendations not decisions.

This type of email usually includes phrases like - “I was recently made aware of....” “Why are the processes continually changing/? This is very upsetting to me and I am so stressed out. (Red flag for workers comp - this is a sender ploy - victim)."

How To Handle

  • Pick up the PHONE. (Most likely the employee will not answer. Leave a nice message.” )

  • Email response: Let’s discuss. I tried to call you to schedule a time. Please let me know when you are available.  

Side Note: This gives the sender a false sense of control. That is a good thing. Problems are solved by people who listen. You have to create a space of listening, then present the logic on how WRONG they are. (kidding) It gives you a chance to interact and determine course of action. They may have some fair points.

Type Five: The Defensive Email.

Personally, this is the most disturbing email. It is usually sent because an employee feels or is being targeted by a supervisor or a group of coworkers. It is as if the Mean Girls are mocking everything you do. This is emotionally upsetting to the sender. They are concerned for their job, and all the adult stresses.

HR Story: One of the worst emails sent to me was a group of Accounting Mean Girls mocking a secretary. They accidentally sent it to me. Gosh it still makes my stomach turn. That story is for another post.

How to Respond

  • Pick up the Phone

  • Listen

  • Be open

  • Be kind

  • Get the parties in a room. (*make sure the sender feels safe.)

  • Take appropriate action.

Hopefully, this guide helps you.



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