I was always taught that a nasty, flame email never does any good. And, truthfully, they've done me loads of no good since my first AOL account. But rather than learn to not flame, I've learned to not flame poorly. A really solid screw-you in electronic prose can easily deliver your point more poignantly than an awkward face-to-face confrontation. And if you're ready to quit anyway, sometimes a hail mary flame war can either reseed the forest or at least make you feel really good. Below are my five rules to flame effectively.
1. If you're going to send a nasty email, make sure it's well written. Nearly every nastygram I've ever regretted sending was poorly written. When I peek back into my sent box for a little cathartic pleasure, I'm faced with misspellings, grammatical errors, unfortunate word choices. At least hit spellcheck. If you wouldn't send a proposal or presentation to your boss without careful revision, you shouldn't flame without the same consideration.
2. Timing is crucial. Flames are often sent at the end of the day, when you've just had enough. But if they're not going to read it until tomorrow, there's no need to hit send just yet. Give yourself a night to think it over. Now, this cooling off period isn't to change your mind or make a wiser decision, mind you, this is to think of better jabs, further entrench yourself and more thoroughly self-justify your anger. If you have the time to really craft a flame, take it. If not, if the matter is time critical, you still have to give it a couple once overs. Remember, you can quickly discredit an otherwise legitimate beef with a hastily written flame.
3. Comb your flame mail for accidental threats. You don't have to worry about the recipient accidentally taking something the wrong way, but rather you should worry about them intentionally taking it the wrong way. And in this culture of paranoia, you don't need an unedited ultimatum being used as evidence.
4. CCing a boss' boss is a sure way to escalate. If you're standing on solid rock, go for it. But if there's any doubt that they may have a point of their own, just keep it between the two of you. Also, if you failed to heed rule number one, the CC line exponentiates how stupid you feel by a factor of copied parties. And you can always forward the email later.
5. If you're fed up and have nothing to lose, double check what you actually have. Often, it's not just a job, but a reputation and friends in that organization. Likely you're not Jerry McGuire. Your nemesis could very well be evil, but it's just as possible that you didn't get enough sleep. Just be prepared to lose everything associated with that job. If everything associated with that job is awful, which does happen, go for it, hit send.