There’s no doubt about it, we couldn’t survive without email. But while it’s an efficient tool it can also become a minefield of miscommunication. When you take away the added cues of facial expressions, body language and tone of voice, your words can sometimes end up being interpreted differently to what you had intended. And it’s when this happens you risk the possibility of offending people or damaging relationships.
So how can you harness your email to ensure you’re delivering your message effectively? With the help of career coach Nicole Grainger-Marsh you can sidestep some common pitfalls and become a master communicator.
1. Skipping the pleasantries
Do you always start an email with a nice greeting and end with a pleasant sign-off? You may think people won’t notice if you don’t say ‘hello’ or end with ‘kind regards’ but leaving out the niceties can be taken as abrupt and rude. “You wouldn’t walk up to someone in a meeting room and speak to them like that so why would you send it in an email?” says Grainger-Marsh.
Taking the time to address someone and thank them is about building rapport and establishing a good professional relationship says Grainger-Marsh. “You don’t have to be flowery or over the top but it’s about demonstrating courtesy and respect.”
2. Marking emails as urgent
If there’s genuinely a pressing matter, hitting send on an email with ‘urgent’ in the subject line might not always be the best way to elicit help from people. This could be viewed as making a flat-out demand rather than a request and is one way to get co-workers off side.
Instead of emailing, consider whether a face-to-face catch up would be more appropriate. “If something is really urgent and you’re trying to get someone to drop everything and prioritise what you want, you need to be able to influence them and persuade…[this] is difficult over email because people find it easy to say no to an email. It’s much harder to say no to someone’s face or over the phone,” says Grainger-Marsh.
3. Saying ‘thanks in advance’
You may think you’re being polite but sending your thanks ahead of time can actually come across as the opposite. “[It can viewed by the person as] well hang on, I haven’t said I’m going to do it yet and you’ve just assumed that I’m going to comply and deliver,” says Grainger-Marsh. If you want someone to help you out be sure to ask first and give them the chance to agree to do so.
4. Copying in the world
Keeping people in the loop is one thing but constantly cc-ing everyone in the office is another. Grainger-Marsh says, “people can see it as [you saying] ‘well if I have a lot of witnesses it reduces my ownership of the issue’.”
As a general rule only copy people in if there’s an action point for them, someone on their team or they’re the owner of a project and need to be kept abreast of a situation. “I’ve worked with CEOs who say if you copy me in and it’s information only I’m going to press delete,” says Grainger-Marsh. “People’s inboxes get clogged so much as it is…make sure there is some value in the information you’re copying them into.”
5. Information overload
Writing huge slabs of text is a no-no. “It gives you a negative reputation in terms of your ability to communicate with people effectively,” says Grainger-Marsh. Before dropping everything into an email ask yourself what am I trying to say and what does this person really need to know?
6. Poor grammar
Is a rogue apostrophe here or a misspelled word there really doing much harm? Absolutely. “It shows a lack of interest and a lack of professionalism,” says Grainger-Marsh. Hitting send on an email with grammatical errors indicates to someone that you don’t value them or your communication with them highly. To avoid this, get into the habit of proofreading your emails to ensure they’re polished.
How to write good emails
When it comes to writing emails Grainger-Marsh says it’s crucial to always put yourself in the recipient’s shoes. Read over a message from their perspective and ask yourself what would they take from what you’ve written? Look over everything from the tone, to your choice of words, to how you’ve signed off and tailor it to suit the person you’re speaking to. A message to a colleague you’re friends with would look very different to one for your boss. Keep these points in mind and you’ll be able to confidently hit send every single time.