Call me crazy, but I regard a business email just like a well-written song, or even a book. An email has a beginning (i.e. salutation) and an ending (i.e. signature); so do songs and books. An email has a body (i.e. storyline); just like songs and books. A well-written email reveals the nature of the sender – his/her characteristic traits, emotional intelligence, professionalism, friendliness and politeness. As for songs and books, aren’t we easily fascinated by great songwriters and authors and are often enchanted by their level of written expression?
Besides the above comparison, think of this: What are the odds of you seeing the faces of your email recipients? In other words, do you always send your business emails to people you have face to face interactions with? Do you get to meet and greet the recipients of your emails on a regular basis? Do you have some kind of voice communication with them (e.g. ongoing conference calls, phone conversations, etc.)?
Most of my clients don’t even get to talk to the recipient of their emails, let alone have face to face contact with them. All their daily communication is via email and most of the times, even business deals are closed without the need to see and/or talk to the person on the other side. Sounds a bit sad, doesn’t it? Don’t you miss having more face time with people? Why has technology taken us away from human interaction? I love technology; technology is great, but just like the great song from “The Buggles” in 1979: “Video Killed the Radio Star”, I often regard emails as “human interaction killers”.
Emails today are almost synonymous for waking up in the morning and drinking coffee. Everyone uses them, they have been an integral part of our lives for years, we send a lot of them on a daily basis, and as such, we have stopped giving them the attention and consideration they deserve. That’s human nature, I guess. When you have access to the same thing, day in and day out, you start losing interest, start undermining its importance, you take it for granted, and as a result, you stop paying attention. That’s the main problem we have with our business emails – we have stopped paying some needed attention to them and the result is (most of the time) – trigger-happy emails (maybe “sad” sounds more like it) that don’t often convey the message and/or image you’d wish to have for yourself and your organization.
Consider this example: John Doe has been communicating via email with Jane Doe for the past six months. He has yet to have neither face to face contact, nor phone conversations with her. John prefers writing very short emails, his tone is quite demanding, he understands the subject of “Email Etiquette”, but he doesn’t really follow its rules. Yet, John gets the job done and is considered a very hard-working individual. Furthermore, amongst his colleagues at work, John is well-liked, appreciated, very professional and a great team-player. Now what do you think? Will Jane be able to recognize these great traits of his? Of course not. The perception that Jane has of John, is of an impolite, rude and inconsiderate individual. Is John really like that? Absolutely not, but that’s all Jane has from John: emails, emails and more emails. No face to face interaction, no conversations via conference calls, web meetings, etc. Only emails! Can you blame Jane for feeling that way? I wouldn’t.
Now, let’s put a little twist in the tale: What if John needed to meet Jane at a conference, following a six-month email exchange? Would that help him? What would Jane feel about him then? It would probably not take too long before Jane sees the difference between “email John” and “face to face John”. John will have the opportunity to redeem himself and reveal his true personality by displaying a gentlemanlike behavior, combined with positive facial expressions and body language. The problem is that most of the times, we don’t really get to see the face behind the email and face to face contact is quite limited these days. If you paid close attention to the two characters I chose for our example, you would recognize that both are native English speakers/writers (i.e. John Doe and Jane Doe). Does that really make a difference if the sender and the receiver share the same culture? What if an ESLer (i.e. English Second Language) needed to send an email to a native English speaker/writer? In Can You Compose a Well-Written Business Email Without Perfecting the English Grammar? I talked about the factors that really count, when sending our business emails, especially to native English speakers/writers (hint: it’s not just your amazing grammar skills); you are more than welcome to read it.
So, what can be done to prevent our trigger-happy fingers from clicking on “send” so quickly?
1. Go over your email – Don’t just write your email, from top to bottom, and send it away. Honestly, I read my “creation” at least twice (sometimes even more) before I launch it into cyberspace. Almost every time, I find a better way how to articulate my message and by doing so, I avoid unnecessary misunderstandings and in many cases, I even help prevent tedious email threads.
2. Read your email out loud – Chances are that if you don’t read your business emails out loud, you won’t find mistakes like: typos, bad choice of vocabulary, incorrect grammar, etc. Furthermore, there are many text-to-speech features and software programs that enable you to listen to what you wrote. Although the sound at times might sound a bit robotic, still it helps a great deal.
3. Try to avoid writing one-liners – I’m not talking about email responses that resemble text messages. For those, one-liners are adequate of course. I’m talking about business email writers, who have some kind of “one-line email obsession”. Composing an email that has more than one line, those individuals regard as emails that are too wordy, and often think that the recipient would hate receiving more than one-liner emails. So, to those who are smiling right now, if you fall under the category of “one-liner business email writers”, don’t forget that one cannot convey a full message in one line. Moreover, most of the times, we mistakenly think that the recipient of our email shares the same knowledge as we do, thus eliminating much needed information, that if we had taken a few seconds more to prolong our writing in the first place (OMG…there comes another line), we could have definitely eliminated unnecessary email confusion and misunderstandings along the way.
4. Compile several emails first – Don’t just send your business email a second after you finish writing it; chances are that right after you compose your email, you won’t be able to detect your mistakes. Your brain functions like a camera, and it takes some time for it to look at another “picture” (i.e. another email). First, think about a number of business emails you need to send. Then, start writing the first one. Finished? Don’t send it right away, but continue to the next one. Finished writing the second one? Now, go back to the first one, proofread it, and only when done, send it with your blessing. This way, you are dramatically increasing your chances of finding your email oops. Works like magic – I do it all the time…