Although we spend more time texting and less time on face-to-face and phone conversations in our personal lives, in the business world, email remains the dominant form of communication, according to an August 2018 survey conducted by Adobe. While email is convenient, with over 200 billion sent daily, and often effective as a communication medium, it lacks the richness provided by the nonverbal and contextual cues provided by face-to-face interaction. It can be difficult to interpret what the writer is saying when one cannot assess facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact and other factors, resulting in a greater chance of misunderstanding leading to conflict. This blog will share tips for better email communication.
What time is it?
The first thing a person will judge about an email is the timing of the email. If you are responding to an email, a quick response provides the impression to the reader that you are organized and that you value the person and their time. That said, please avoid auto-responses with messages such as “Thank you for your email, I will reply to you as soon as possible,” which adds no new information and clogs the recipient’s inbox. If possible, it is best to reply within 24 hours or if that will not happen you can send an email saying when you will be able to respond. Also related to timing is when initial emails are sent. Sending emails late at night may wake the person if notifications are turned on or may cause the person to wonder if they are expected to be working at 2am and if a failure to reply will be seen as irresponsible.
How would you feel if you were reading this?
Tone is how the writer expresses his/her attitude. In general, you want to appear friendly, courteous and respectful and not come across as demanding. Tone can be tricky and is subject to interpretation. You may think you were being concise and the reader finds it rude. To sense the tone, try reading your email aloud and anticipate how the reader may react to what you are saying and what questions may arise. Be kind, positive and avoid words such as failure. Phrase sentences to avoid “You statements,” such as “You didn’t do what you were supposed to” and replace with “I didn’t see the report, have you sent it to me?” Some conversations are best held in person such as giving someone a raise and bad news is best delivered in person.
Format is also an aspect of tone. While most people are aware that ALL CAPS INDICATES YELLING, bold type may highlight important text or it may be seen as anger as well. Please come to my office right away. If you say that, please explain why “because I am headed to a meeting and need that data” so you are not inciting panic in the reader.
Check spelling and fix typos before hitting send to avoid giving a disorganized and sloppy tone to a business email. People will be offended or dismissive if their names are misspelled so please correct before sending.
Keep it simple, sweetheart
It is important that an email be concise and to the point so that the reader can quickly digest and understand the message. In most business situations, it does not mean using the abbreviations that are acceptable in texting such as CUL8R. The email should clearly note why you are reaching out, what is needed from the reader or if the email is being sent for informational purposes only. This simplicity begins with a clear subject line. Avoid “for your attention” as a standalone subject and avoid Urgent unless the message truly is time-critical.
Get to the point quickly after a little conversation such as “Good morning Joe, Hope you are having a good day.” Explain the who-what-where-when-and why to avoid confusion and questions. Be polite and personable.
Sending email offers the chance to select one’s words and formatting carefully, therefore it is important to compose an email that shows some personality and empathy for the reader. The bottom line: re-read before you send to avoid embarrassment or interpersonal conflict. Feel free to share any email horror stories in the comments.
This blog originally appeared on September 5, 2018.