This paper explores the context of email-based communication in an established but fragile, inter-organisational partnership which was often overlain with conflict. Drawing upon adaptation theory, this study explores how participants adapt to the use of email to handle conflict. Extensive data were obtained during a six-month field study of a case of cross-border inter-organisational collaboration in East Asia. We observed that the individuals involved in the cross-border partnership utilised email as a lean form of communication to stop covert conflict from explicitly emerging. In contrast to prior research on the leanness of email in managing conflict, we found that under the described conflict situation the very leanness of email was appreciated and thus, exploited by those concerned to manage the conflict situation. Specifically, we identified four key conflict-triggered adaptation strategies, namely, interaction avoidance, disempowering, blame-protection and image-sheltering that drove the ways in which email was adapted to maintain organisational partnerships under conflict.