How to De-Fang Emotionally Charged Criticism

When one of my clients fired “Bob,” he sent me a vitriolic e-mail criticizing nearly everything about the company he had worked for.

My first impulse was to argue with him. Most of what he said, it seemed to me, was sour grapes, and I said so in the e-mail I wrote back to him. But instead of sending it, I let it rest for 24 hours. (This is a practice I’ve adopted that has saved me lots of time and trouble.) The next day, I read it over and deleted it. Then I wrote a new e-mail. Instead of arguing with him, I acknowledged the legitimate points he’d made and poked fun at myself for not fixing those problems earlier.

What followed was a progressively more benevolent exchange that has matured into a friendly correspondence that benefits both of us. He still shoots off occasional verbal torpedoes, and I continue to deflect them as best I can with self-deprecating humor.

That’s what then-senator John F. Kennedy did in 1958. The press and his political opponents were accusing him of using his father’s wealth and influence to win the democratic nomination for president. He could have argued the point. Instead, he defused the allegations during a campaign speech by reading aloud this “telegram” from his generous daddy:

“Jack, don’t spend one dime more than is necessary. I’ll be damned if I am going to pay for a landslide.”

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]