Founders: Use This Rule for Controversial Communication

Confrontation and controversy aren’t always bad things. In fact, they’re usually catalysts for opportunity.

Written by Joe Procopio
Published on Feb. 23, 2022
Founders: Use This Rule for Controversial Communication
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A consistent personal communication strategy shouldn’t just keep you out of trouble, it should also push you into the kind of good trouble that springboards your business to new and unexpected heights.

I personally write several heated emails a week, each one spitting venom and built on a business case that would make Jeff Bezos apologize for not being more savvy. I don’t send them. Not one.

I write many more emails that are also either confrontational, controversial or just a little bit crazy. I do send all of those. 

You don’t have to search very hard to find examples of the career-ending damage that can be caused by the split-second act of hitting the send button without thinking. But on the flip side, it’s much harder to measure the equally damaging opportunity cost that piles up when you avoid tough conversations. 

If you use this rule, every time, you will greatly reduce the odds of either of those scenarios happening to you. 

How to Approach Controversial Communication

  1. Get to the root of the problem.
  2. Don’t let the wrong person handle your business.
  3. Remove all emotion.
  4. Get over the fear.


Always Write the Email

There are various takes on this rule. For example, when you’re angry or upset, you should write a no-holds-barred letter with the intention of never sending it. Or you should always sleep on any communication that might have an emotional edge. 

Those are fine rules. They just don’t go far enough. 

This rule isn’t so much about you as it is about your business. It borrows from both of the above strategies, but those strategies are merely protective. They’re about making sure you don’t let your personal faults send your business off the rails. 

This rule adds an additional element: Don’t let your personal faults hold back your business’s growth.

Here’s the entire rule:

  1. When you’ve got something on your mind and there is confrontation or controversy involved — even if the controversy is simply, “Here’s a crazy idea I want to suggest to someone” — get up and write that email right away. 

  2. Preferably, you’ll write that email in a text document. If you do use an actual email, don’t put any email addresses in the recipient fields (just in case you hit send). 

  3. Select a time of day when you can clear your mind, come back to those drafts and reconsider them. Don’t reconsider any communication that hasn’t sat for at least a couple hours. Not just one hour, at least two. If you’re still fired up, walk away and come back later.

  4. Review your drafts but do not edit them. Let me repeat. Don’t edit them. Either start the entire email from scratch or delete it altogether. 

Yeah, it’s a little bit of extra work, but it takes the anger or fear out of your communication. When you edit an email, you’re starting from the same dark place, you’re just hedging your wording. Believe me, you can’t edit out anger or fear. Start over.

Now, here are all the reasons why you should use this rule every time you smell confrontation or controversy in your communications. The first three are kind of obvious. It’s that last one you need to think about.


1. Get to the Root of the Problem

I don’t think I need to elaborate on how important it is to check and manage your mental health. Keeping too much stuff repressed for too long is terrible for you. But there’s more to it than that.

Sometimes you don’t even know what the problem is until you start diving into why you’re angry or upset. And often, you’ll realize that what you’re angry or upset about isn’t really the problem. 

I will raise my hand as being guilty of writing scathing emails faulting some person or organization for my troubles, and then a couple hours later realize that I’m actually the problem — not them. 

Think about how awful it’s going to feel when you figure that out after you send the email. 

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2. Don’t Let the Wrong Person Handle Your Business

When I’m angry or upset, and I show it, I’m letting people see the worst side of me. It’s still me, but not at my best. I like to think of myself as a genuine and honest person, but sometimes it takes a lot to keep my awful angry side from creeping out. 

I’m no saint. I’m just saying the worst side of anyone — even you — can break free at the worst time. Once you let it out, you can’t take it back. 


3. Remove All Emotion

Business is about objectives, not the subjective. It’s not going to work out for you every time. But here’s the thing. In that cold world of objectives, emotion doesn’t sway. 

Emotion can be hard to detect. There may be times when you’re spraying emotion all over the place and not realizing it. Or perhaps you’re labeling it as “fairness” or even “payback.” 

But you can smell confrontation and controversy right away. I mean, just using those words as options can lead you to say things like, “This email isn’t emotional at all, but it is a little confrontational.”

Step back. It’s emotional.

And that includes positive emotion. It doesn’t matter how much I love my idea. If I can’t sell my idea based on its merit, very few people are going to buy into it. So you need this rule to open up opportunities.

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4. Get Over the Fear

Here’s the reason that makes this rule unique: How many ideas, initiatives or deals have you lost because they never got out of your head? I’m pretty sure you don’t know.

Confrontation and controversy aren’t always bad things. In fact, they’re usually catalysts for opportunity. We entrepreneurs will sometimes lose out on big gains because we think no one will buy into the plan. So why risk looking like a fool?

But usually, you feel like that because you realize you can’t sell the emotion of whatever it is you’re proposing. So quickly get it on paper first, while you’re still amped up and before you back out. 

Then come back later and dig into the merit of the idea and rewrite the email. If you were right about it being a stroke of genius, that’ll get folks as excited as you are. And if you were wrong, you won’t be anywhere near as excited as you were when you wrote the original email. It won’t be worth rewriting. Maybe the idea wasn’t so great after all.

You’ll never know if you’re getting into good trouble until you take the fear out of it first.

I’ll leave you with some bonus rules for good measure: 

  1. Never use any sort of instant messaging to communicate something confrontational or controversial. This includes Slack, text and especially social media (it happens). 

  2. The general public doesn’t need your opinions about anything. Ever. At best, you’ll get dopamine. At worst, you’ll lose your job. There’s a time and place to be a hero. That place is not Twitter.

  3. Always remember that all your emails are going to be made public. On a popular website. With a comment section. Let’s say Reddit, just for giggles. Maybe with your name and phone number prominently attached. The last step before you send any email is to imagine how that would go down.

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