4 Reasons Why Sending Flame Mails Could Damage Your Relationships

By Paula Meir, Author of Your Life, Your Way: A Practical Guide To Getting Your S**t Together

I’m not sure what it is about email that provides a platform for people to behave and communicate badly. Whether it’s because they are behind a screen and it makes people feel brave and authoritative in the moment I don’t know. In fact, I can guarantee that the person would never probably say something like this to the person’s face and they might sit next to them. What I do know is that these types of emails can have a far larger negative effect on the individual than anyone might realise.

There is no doubt that sometimes people mess up and feedback needs to be given to avoid the situation happening again, of course this can be frustrating but is email the way to deal with it? The thing about a flame mail is that it doesn’t just contain the example of the misdemeanour but quite often it also contains a passive aggressive sarcasm which bites at the target person. Contained in the words is an outpouring of negative emotion which could have been cooped up by the sender all day, and then just one thing unleashes the flow. Here is a good example of what I’m talking about.


I think I asked you to make sure that my document package for today was sorted before you left. I see that you made ‘some attempt’ to put it together but unless you want to make me look like a complete idiot I suggest that you make a better effort next time……if indeed you do get the opportunity of a ‘next time’. I’ve sorted it myself this time so you don’t need to worry about messing it up again.


I’ve seen emails like this and worse leaving the recipient either in tears or questioning their ability in turn knocking in their confidence. This can have a spiralling effect of the person being too scared or concerned about getting it wrong that they do get it wrong in their tense and anxious state.

So, what outcome is the sender trying to achieve. The ‘I put them in their place’? outcome? Or the ‘I certainly told them!’? Well both of those are technically true but this is also what you achieve when you send emails like this;

  • The use of status is a temporary power source; you may get a fear factor in the moment but in the mid to long term you won’t be liked or respected and it could negatively impact your career progression
  • You expose your inability to manage your own internal experience, all this type of email does is show that you can’t contain your emotions and that you need to use sarcasm and potentially aggression to make you feel better
  • You aren’t helping the person get better. Belittling them or making them feel bad is different from having a firm conversation around what they need to improve, the two don’t have to come together. What are they going to learn from you when you communicate in this way apart from that’s ‘what goes’ in your team or department. Is that the culture you want to create?
  • What kind of reputation do you want in the business? Do you want to be known as the boss or manager that tears a strip off people when they go wrong? Or do you want to be a leader who holds high standards but is supportive of a culture where people can fail but learn from their mistakes in a way which is confidence building and developing.

You have the power to set your culture within your team and make a difference in the way people communicate and build relationships with each other. Make it a good one.