After a spate of auto-spell mistakes, typos, misaddresses, and other embarrassing errors in my emails and text messages, I decided to review an article entitled “How Successful People Write Emails to Get What They Want (That'll Help You Achieve Your Goals).”
I tend to be pretty utilitarian in my online communication unless I’m writing something I deem highly important or potentially controversial. But even then I tend to be a bit careless. I often bang them out and press SEND before reviewing what I’ve written. According to the article, that’s not good.
Every email you send, you spend precious capital. Time is a valuable resource, and you can waste people’s time if your communications are not worthwhile or incomplete. Send a few unhelpful emails, and you could lose the person forever.
Yikes. Precious capital!
The article suggests a nine-item check list. Here are a few I’m paying attention to, plus a couple of my own rules.
Consider what else is going on with the recipient.
Too often I don't stop to think about the person I’m addressing. Beginning an email with “I hope you’re doing well” or some recognition of what might be going on in a recipient’s life tells people that we’re at least thinking of them as a person.
Answer the five “Ws.”
Answering who, what, where, when and why saves time and avoids time spent emailing back and forths. I just made three exchanges setting up lunch meeting, when I could have said, "How about lunch Friday-noon at Corner Bakery? If that doesn't work, give me a better time. I'm open next week Monday and Wednesday."
Don’t start with “I.”
An email is about the other person, not you. When you start with the word I, it sends a message you are more important than the person that you’re communicating with. A short comment to wish someone a Happy Birthday, or Merry Christmas, or congratulate them for a promotion, lets the reader know you're not just focused on yourself.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV)
Review for tone.
Words alone make it easy for our intent to be misconstrued. Short emails might be efficient, but they can seem curt. Some people think emojis are not professional, but I’d rather someone know I’m smiling as I write than take offence by a remark they take the wrong way.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5 NIV)
I am spelling-challenged, I love auto spell. However, the AI correction feature can create embarrassing sentences for those of us who hate to proof what we write. Such mistakes suggest carelessness--that we didn’t take time to get it right. Or worse, that we didn't know any better.
I’ve found a wonderful tool in Outlook and MS Word. Under the REVIEW tab there’s a feature called READ ALOUD SPEECH that reads your text back to you.
Other Lessons I’ve Learned the Hard Way
Keep the TO box empty until you finish the email.
If you’ve ever sent an important email prematurely, you know how embarrassing this can be. Double check to see that the right persons are listed in the TO and CC boxes and that no one is listed that you did not intend to receive the email.
Never try to solve a sticky problem with email.
If you feel the temperature rising, don’t try to resolve things with another email. Pick up the old technology called a phone and make a call. At the very least, you’ve added tone of voice to the mix. If the person is down the hall, speak with them face to face so that facial expression and gesture complement your words.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1, NIV)
Keep emails as short as possible.
Wordy diatribes not only muddy the water, but tempt people not to pay attention as they wade through unnecessary details. Review emails that are over three-four sentences and make sure every sentence counts. If there’s more to say, attach a document. This says to the recipient, I respect your time and attention--something always welcomed.
A truly wise person uses few words (Proverbs 17:27, NLT)
Don't answer important emails on your cell phone.
Fat fingers that invite typos and strange auto-spelled words. Wait until you have a big screen and keyboard to respond.
What insights have you gained about effective email communication?
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