I was faced with a scenario this week where I was scheduled to meet with a client for the first time. We had only communicated via email up to our meeting and I was concerned that it could be quite a combative experience because of her rather gruff and direct approach via email.
I could not have been more wrong!
From the moment I met both her and her husband, I felt a warmth and genuineness not often experienced in business. She was direct, she spoke her mind and she made me laugh a LOT with her frank approach but she was not antagonistic, which I had assumed she might be by her recent email correspondence.
A study undertaken by Radicati Group Inc , a US technology market research firm based in Silicon Valley, stated that in 2016, the number of business and consumer emails sent and received per day was 215.3 billion. This is expected to grow on an average annual rate of 4.6% over the next four years, reaching over 257.7 billion by the end of 2020.
This brings me back to the age-old argument regarding effective communication, particularly in our current business environments when email and text is routinely replacing our verbal interactions. How do we combat these negatives to ensure our professional and indeed our personal interactions are understood in the way that they were intended?
What is the right and wrong way to communicate in our busy business lives to get the most out of our business exchanges? Here are my thoughts:
Slow it down – whilst it is great to have an empty inbox, good writing usually takes time and consideration to formulate your thoughts and to figure out what you’re really trying to say in a clear way before you race to press the send button.
Manage your time – many people judge their value in a role by the amount of emails they receive and how they crank through their inbox. Be smart about email management and allow time to respond to emails when you can block time to respond so you don’t get caught in hurried or emotional responses.
According to Alex Cavoulacos there are three types of emails:
- Emails that are a quick read and can be answered right away (Reply time: less than five minutes)
- Emails that require some thought or careful writing, but limited extra “work” (Reply time: 5-30 minutes)
- Emails that require research or an output to be created (Reply time: 30 minutes or more)
She notes that when faced with a two-hour block of time, you should always start with emails that require 30 minutes or more, and get at least one or two of those done before doing any quicker ones. On the other hand, if you only have 15 minutes before your next meeting, that’s the perfect time to get quick emails out of the way.
Beginning, middle and end – ‘Just because we live in a 140-character world doesn’t mean your emails should be that way ‘ (The Muse ).
One of my pet hates are the structure of most of the emails I receive, both internally and externally. Emails should have some sort of structure, but it’s finding the right balance to ensure the message is clear, but not caught up in ‘war and peace’ monologue. Here are some points to consider:
- Always start with a greeting – It may seem archaic, but I think these two simple words set a respectful tone to an email, and seriously how much more time will it take to type the words ‘Dear Helen’? Outside of this, an opening paragraph is a great place for a friendly greeting, a reminder or reference to a previous conversation or a statement as to why you’re reaching out.
- Begin with the end in mind – the next part of your email should give the recipient all the information they need to take whatever action you might be asking of them or if the email is being sent to convey information or make a decision make sure to include your rationale or provide an explanation. It doesn’t have to be long, and avoid extended blocks of text by breaking it up into short paragraphs or bullet points.
- And…action – the conclusion should wrap up the next steps, setting a date for a meeting or to possibly provide an understanding of what you might need and by when. It is also an invitation for the recipient to ask for more information.
- Thanks – like the opening salutation, especially in the first email, close the dialogue professionally and with a full signature. Like the opening, it would not take more than one second to say ‘Regards’ and type your name!
Proofread, proofread, proofread! – Always re-read your emails, at least once. Besides just checking for basic spelling and grammatical errors, you should also be checking your facts like the spelling of the recipient or other’s names, events you refer to, or dates you mention. You should also be checking for tone and if you happen to be writing in anger, this could be a time you save the document in drafts and walk around rather than pressing send on an email you might regret later!
Pick up the phone – think about why you are sending an email; if you feel it is going to require multiple emails to get sorted, pick up the phone or arrange a meeting to discuss. Some things are better resolved on the phone or in person, particularly when logistics or relationships are complex.
If you are sending an email because you don’t like conflict and feel braver in this forum then consider that the willingness to come out from behind the security of email is not only more efficient, but it also shows assertiveness and initiative. There is also no fear of the message getting ‘lost in translation’ when you in a face to face discussion.
We are all busy and we all get too many emails but that doesn’t excuse poor email protocols; begin with the end in mind.