People ask me a lot about how to deliver hard messages by email.

My answer?  Keep it short, keep it simple, and above all, be MATTER-OF-FACT.

The art of being matter-of-fact – (avoid the dramas, people!)

What do I mean, hard messages?

 I mean the emails you don’t want to send.

The ones you procrastinate.  The ones where you need to let someone know you disagree. or the ones where you need to push-back or the dreaded NO email.

 I also get asked how to let someone down gently, how to decline a request, how to say “this isn’t for me” (and no, I’m not talking about breaking up your relationship by email.  #BeAGoodHuman).

What we get wrong with the hard messages

We think we need to justify our position

We really don’t.  Or we don’t need to go into detail, anyway.

We think that if we’re saying no to someone that we need to give lots of good reasons so they can see where we’re coming from and ULTIMATELY so they still think we’re a decent human.

But the problem with this is that every justification you provide when saying no to someone is another opportunity you’re giving them to argue or push back.  It’s another door they think they can get a foot in to change your mind.  To help you see things their way.  If you don’t want that to happen, if you want them not to have a comeback, just say no with minimal reason.

Things to know about life - "No" is a complete sentence.  It does not require justification or explanation

Is IS your right to say NO. We live in the age of consent and all that.

We think we need to use a formal voice to sound more professional

Please don’t make me say it again.

The formal voice is problematic.

An email with a formal tone usually comes across as harsh, clinical, robotic, or condescending

It’s no longer fit for purpose.  It causes problems.  It doesn’t come across as polite, it comes across as all kinds of bad things.

Not convinced?

You could read about it herehere or here (I may have mentioned it a few times before).

We try to soften the message

And that just makes it less clear!

Do you know what’s worse than getting bad news?

Having to work hard to find out what the bad news is.

The other problem with the softening is emotional leakage. The more we narrate, the more we write sentences and paragraphs, the more chance there is for your emotions to leak through (passive aggressive, anyone?) or for someone to *think* they can read between the lines.

Avoid that by being as factual and brief as possible

Avoid emotional leakage by staying matter-of-fact.

How to sound matter-of-fact

Ask yourself, “What is the high-level message I want to get across?”


Now imagine if you’d say those words to someone’s face.  No?  Feels a bit harsh? 

Good – you need to identify that.  So now, what would you change?

Then, if you need to soften, use a “sorry” but don’t use an “unfortunately.”

What might that look like?

We don’t need dramas.

Let’s just be good humans, be boundaried, be awesome, and get shit done.

Being #matteroffact will help you do that.

Good emails are about claiming permission to be the good human you are - just in writing




Check out my quick list of communication rockstar email resources and advice!