How to Read Email for Sane Online Discussion

How to receive heated email and still keep your cool while you read it.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #273

Life would be so much easier if we didn’t have emotions and were all like Mr. Spock (or Ms., or Zs. Spock). In my episode on writing emotional email, we explore how to write email so it doesn’t provoke the recipient. Today we’re going to explore the other side: how to read email so it doesn’t provoke you.

Here There Be Trolls

As long as internet discussion groups have been around, there have been trolls. In the stories, trolls live under bridges. They are hairy, loathsome creatures, dripping of foul-smelling goo. Their putrid breath causes small children to run away in horror, and the slimy remains of their last meal ooze down their Star Trek T-shirts ... oh, wait, I’m describing real life trolls, too.

Real life internet trolls are the people who believe it’s their job to make others feel bad, provoke them, and get them angry. Some do it intentionally, and everyone knows they’re trolls. Others shave their back hair, put on clothes from Banana Republic, and pretend to be reasonable people. Until they put fingers to keyboard.


Read With Multiple Voice Tones

“Stever, I just got a message from Europa. She’s insulting me!” My pal Bernice was verklempt. She showed me the message from Europa:

Dear Bernice,

I can’t believe the job you did on the new sales brochure, without even consulting me. I’ve never seen anything like it. The pictures, the words, the editorial ... Let’s just say it’s obvious your first attempt at a brochure is clearly superior to anything I would have come up with.

Sincerely, Europa

Wow. What a letter. But it could be read two different ways (check out the audio podcast above to hear the difference).

Same words, 180-degree opposite meaning.

Same words, 180-degree opposite meaning. That’s because emotion is transmitted through voice tone, while the words simply guide the interpretation of the emotion. When you are reading something online that gets you all steamed up, it’s almost certainly because you’re reading it in a nasty, attacking, or sarcastic voice tone. Instead, try reading it like a cartoon character. Or in a seductive tone of voice. Even very negative words can be read this way and you won’t have the same reaction. Try this:

You know you’re totally wrong. You’re just making stuff up. You parents wear combat boots, and you’re a doody-head.

Even that personal attack sounds great when read in a seductive tone of voice.

When you receive email or read something online that triggers you, read it again in a variety of voice tones. The intent may even have been negative, but why should you let a troll push your buttons? Instead, just change the voice tone, and then that evil, awful troll whose beard smells of Doritos and M&Ms won’t get a rise out of you and instead, skulk off to bother someone else.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.