A while ago, we touched a nerve with our article called 5 Ways to Respond to Negative Feedback Via Email. So we thought we’d follow up with a broader look at this ubiquitous mode of communication.
Email makes our lives easier, but it can also lead to misinterpretations, overreactions, and damaged relationships. This is even more true in the workplace than it is in the home.
That’s why, when you receive an email from a boss or coworker that makes you feel upset, it’s important to be aware of the unique characteristics of the medium and moderate your attitude when responding. Before hitting Reply—or worse, Reply All—and launching a sharp retort, pause and think for a moment.
Conversely, you have the responsibility to communicate clearly when you initiate an email correspondence so your recipient doesn’t have to question your motives.
Let’s take a look at a few ways you can avoid getting tripped up when receiving or sending emails.
Interpret the Language of Emails
We’ve all been there. You take the time to carefully compose an email to a superior or colleague clearly laying out your thoughts on some important topics. You click Send, and back comes . . . “Fine.”
Huh? Are they mad? Too busy to absorb what you wrote? Do they agree with everything in your message? Or just wish you would leave them alone?
Without the visual and auditory cues we’re used to relying on, you can’t really know. It’s natural to assume the worst—but you could make an okay situation worse with a hasty response.
Whether it’s your instinct to retreat inward or lash out, try to put yourself in the sender’s position. Politely asking for clarity is the safest course of action. Most times, there was no offense intended.
Resist the Urge to Use Jargon
Do you really need to “circle back” with someone? Or would you simply like to discuss the issue later? Then say that. The same goes for “put a pin in this” and “take it offline.” To the person cringing on the other end of your email, you probably sound even more pretentious than if you had said it out loud.
Thankfully, overused phrases like “think outside the box” and “run it up the flagpole” have become so laughable that no one uses them anymore. But the temptation remains to employ seemingly innocuous terms like “results-driven” or “client-focused.” Think about it. Do those words actually add anything meaningful to what you’re saying? Aren’t most projects driven by results or focused on clients?
The lesson is to keep your email writing spare and purposeful in order to convey intelligence. The tighter your message, the more you’ll be listened to and respected. At the end of the day, it is what it is. (Sorry.)
Be the Emailer You Wish Others Were
Now on to the positive. What can you do in your own small corner of the working world to improve email communication?
Know When to Step Away from the Keyboard
Is there a business reason for leaving a “paper” trail? For example, you may need to track the progress of formally disciplining someone who reports to you. Then email is your friend.
But for general professional communications, there are times when the best way to email is to not email—especially if you’re dealing with sensitive or easily misconstrued matters, if you’re not on good terms with the person with whom you’re emailing, or if you’ve gone more than two or three rounds on the same subject without making any progress.
If you and your recipient are in different locations, pick up the phone or use a videoconferencing tool. If you’re at the same physical workplace, get up and poke your head into their office. Even as we become more and more reliant on electronic devices to converse with one another, nothing will ever replace good old human contact.
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