Published: Nov. 27, 2017

As we near the end of the semester and finals stress sets in, there’s an increased likelihood that you may receive an email from a student with an aggressive tone. Students may seek clarification on grades or assignments via email which may result in conflict or misunderstandings.

The Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution provides the following tips and information to help respond to and de-escalate conflict with a student through email. When possible, arrange a meeting with the student in person or over the phone to resolve an issue.

Tips for responding to an aggressive email (assuming your safety is not at risk):

  • Acknowledge the feelings that the student is expressing.
  • Respond selectively. Don’t respond to slights on yourself; rather, respond to the need the student is expressing.
  • Keep the message short with only the necessary information to set up a meeting in person or over the phone.
  • Avoid proving you were right, attempting to reason via email, responding in kind, or getting defensive – these types of responses will make it difficult to effectively resolve the issue.

During the in-person meeting:

  • Set expectations early on. Articulate that you are present to help the student with the issue at hand.
  • If necessary, give the student a short period of time to vent frustrations.
  • After they’ve had a short time to vent, acknowledge their feelings and set the expectation that the remainder of the discussion will focus on moving forward to find a solution.

Exploring Student Affairs is a series for discovering the roles of Student Affairs on campus as a resource not only for students but also faculty and staff. Read more from Exploring Student Affairs: "Supporting students and colleagues through traumatic events," "Supporting student resiliency," "Helping students get involved," "Talking about alcohol, other drugs," "Recognizing and responding to stress", Resources to create an inclusive learning environment