As PR professionals we’ve learned how to position, couch and direct certain messages so that they are received in the most desired manner. It’s how we interact with external influencers – media, clients and even colleagues. But what about when it’s family?

I recently had an interaction with a distant family member that I haven’t seen for several years. Family circumstances brought us together and it was eye-opening to see how badly people can behave when they just don’t care. While there, this family member asked me if I was pregnant. Considering that I am not, this didn’t exactly sit well with me. I know I’m not the skinniest person in the world, but pregnant…really? I know what I look like pregnant, and this isn’t it.

The next day I got what I thought was a sincere apology email. I responded in typical Ann-fashion – quickly dismissing any hard feelings, infusing a bit of humor and moving on to other less-sensitive topics. I thought the issue was over. Boy was I wrong. The next morning I got a second email from her, this one dismissing anything nice I had to say and going on a rant about how I could lose weight – suggesting apps, exercise programs and even some personal commentary about “being fat.” Wow.

Of course my initial response was to want to send her back a parting shot that would truly leave an impression. I said out loud what I’d like to say, told it to friends and was all but ready to let her have a piece of my mind. But then I stopped to breathe. After consulting with my own advisors (aka parents and friends), they assured me that no response would be the best response – and what would have the greatest impact. So I put on my PR hat and did what I’d tell a client to do – control the message, which in this case meant stop communicating with a person who had her own agenda and simply enjoys a fight.  If only I was always this strong.

What do you do when personal communications break down? Do you bring out your PR skills and manage the message, or do you just let it all come out?