If you’re anything like me, you understand the tight bond I have with Microsoft Outlook. Because of the overload of logistical planning in my operational role, email is easily my number one form of communication with the outside world. And I have come to realize, through underestimating the power of emails at times, that email relationships are real relationships, but without the added benefit of non-verbal or audio cues for context, tone, or meaning. Thus, I cherish and consistently apply the Golden Rule: Do unto others in email as you would have done unto you.
Between early 2009 and today, nearly two and a half years later, I’ve had literally tens of thousands of messages fly out of my outbox—and that doesn’t include archived/deleted/personal accounts. I wish I could say that with quantity comes quality, but, sadly, I cannot. If it were true, I wouldn’t have had the kinds of confused email exchanges that can result in more than simply lack of clarity—but in emotional outcomes I couldn’t have imagined.
Recipients of my emails, at times, have read all sorts of “meaning” into communications I thought were pretty straight-forward and friendly. So, through trial and error, I have become an advocate for “resonant emails.” Resonance is defined as being awake, aware and in tune with yourself and others. By writing resonant, well-thought out, intentional emails, I have more effectively and efficiently given, received and confirmed information. It’s become a business imperative.
Here are some tips to follow when writing resonant emails.
- Be empathic. Even if the news you’re delivering isn’t great, you can be thoughtful about how you present it and how it is likely to impact the person receiving it. It’s important to be friendly and respectful, even if you don’t always get the same in return. In these times of stress and high burn out, it’s easy to trigger someone, especially through email. Always remember that virtual relationships matter—they can make your life easier or more difficult.
- Carry on a “conversation,” but remain professional. A bunch of one-liners a day can really do damage on clutter control in an inbox. Not only that, but, often times, email chains are complex and hard to follow because of the constant back and forth necessary to gather all of the information. Say “Hello, hope all is well,” AND get to the point while keeping it simple and complete.
- Let optimism shine. Stay away from using words like, “don’t,” “never,” or “won’t.” For instance, if you’ve worked hard to schedule a meeting and the other person has to cancel on short notice, rescheduling can be a nightmare. If you believe that the meeting is going to be a bear to reschedule, but it’s absolutely necessary to make it happen, then use language that suggests flexibility and provides alternate options. This small shift in approach and language can make a huge difference, especially when emailing with executive assistants and other support staff. They get barraged with requests and demands all day. Make yours stand out for being low intensity and friendly, you may be surprised how quickly you get an answer and a solution offered.
- Respond fully. When you’re replying to an email, be sure to be responsive. Sometimes senders aren’t as clear as they should be (or intend to be) and you’ll need to read between the lines. By doing so you’ll be able to answer all explicit questions AND any implied requests. Also, by being responsive in a timely manner and providing any and all of the senders’ inquiries, you’re more apt to get a speedy reply in return and free yourself to attend to other matters.
Finally a word of caution: If you’re really tired, over emotional, need an answer quickly or you have to write a novel in order to explain something—email isn’t the best option. As Annie McKee suggests in her book, Management: A Focus on Leaders, “If you receive an email that causes you to have a strong emotional reaction, do not respond immediately. Calm down, reflect on the message, and then respond appropriately—which may or may not be via e-mail.”
Many people still thrive on face to face contact, it keeps things well-oiled for resonant emails to flow—so don’t forget to pick up the phone every once in a while or get up from your desk and go for a walk to visit people at their desks for some good old relating.
What tips do you have about emailing?
Want to read more on relationships electronica? Check out How Social Media Has Improved My Relationships or 4 Tips to Appease the Haters