Don’t send that email until you’ve read this. Seriously, don’t.

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By Christopher Elliott

Sometimes, the most effective emails are the ones you don’t send at all.

I know that sounds like a contradiction, but scroll back in the archives if you’re having trouble wrapping your head around that. This site receives ineffective complaints on an almost daily basis — emails that probably should never have been sent.

They include:

  • Messages featuring angry accusation and filled with emotion: “You’ve ruined my life! You’ve destroyed my happiness!”
  • Emails that threaten: “I will take you to court and sue you and your entire family!”
  • Missives that promise a massive publicity campaign: “I will tell everyone on social media about your incompetence. You hear me? Everyone.”

I probably don’t need to tell you that these tactics are not effective — ever. But how do you know that you’re drafting an email that will fail?

I’ve had several recent opportunities to ask myself that very question. It involves a more personal conflict. But that’s good, because when things get personal, you take things personally.

I wrote a lot of emails. I sent none of them. I’ll tell you how I knew they should never be sent. Here are the questions you should ask before you push the button:

Would sending the email affect the outcome of the case?

That’s the first and perhaps the biggest question. If sending the missive would not affect the results, then why bother? In my particular case, there is only one opinion that matters: that of a judge. Knowing this has made me push the “delete” key on numerous occasions.

Would sending the message just make me “feel” better?

If the answer is “yes” then chances are it’s too emotional, too accusatory, to be of any use. It may actually hurt your case if you send it. Again, I’ve drafted many emails like this. They contain clever one-liners, zingers and insults. They would quite effectively reduce the recipient to a therapy case in urgent need of medication (or self-medication). But they don’t further my cause, so they remain unsent. And this is good because having written the email, I feel better — it was cathartic for me.

battleface delivers insurance that doesn’t quit when circumstances change. We provide specialty travel insurance services and benefits to travelers visiting or working internationally, including in the world’s most hard to reach places. Currently selling in 54 countries and growing, our mission is to deliver simple solutions to travelers worldwide heading out on their next adventure.

Would sending the missive reveal information that could damage my case?

Sometimes, in your zeal to prove the rightness of your cause, you might reveal details that weaken your case or expose you to liability. This happens when people who game loyalty cards inadvertently reveal their strategies when they complain about a program, or when they publish their card-gaming secrets online. I’m not interested in helping these dishonest customers, but we can learn from their mistakes: By revealing their tactics, they hurt themselves. (Related: You’ve been warned! Don’t fall for these scams this summer.)

Would sending the email turn an adversary into an enemy?

Finally, you have to consider the broader effects of any grievance. If your message would so alienate the recipient that it would turn that person into more than an adversary, then you should refrain from sending it. The information in the message may be accurate and presented in a truthful context, but if it also turns that person into an enemy, irrationally devoted to your failure, then what’s the point? I’m not necessarily talking about a person here. I’ve had a prominent travel company do that with me. No fun. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problem.)

Remember, the one thing you have going for you as you pursue your case is that you’re right and they’re wrong. Whether you’re dealing with a large corporation or an individual, if your case is legitimate, you don’t have to be dramatic about it. When people lie, cheat and steal from you, they won’t get away with it.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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