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What Does Your Email Say About You?
by Sue Hershkowitz-Coore, CSP

If you received an email that you sent, what would you think about it? I'm not kidding! If you didn't know you, what would you think about the tone of your message, about your professionalism, about your style?

The truth is that we really are our own biggest enemy! We're so sure of what we want to say that sometimes we just don't bother to say it. We think we're being clear because we understand the situation and know the background, and to the other person, we could be writing Classical Greek!

Often, we respond without thinking through the ramifications of our words. So many of us are in such a hurry to be efficient that our effectiveness disappears. Just this morning, for instance, I received an email from my web host person. He responded to my email by saying, "As I've verified for you 5 times before..." What did he think he would achieve by writing that? Do you think he intended to purposely make me feel foolish/stupid/belittled? (He was probably more than a bit frustrated by my request... but if I didn't need an answer, I wouldn't have bothered him for the fifth time!) What professional purpose could he accomplish other than to make me annoyed (and possibly look for another more patient vendor!)? How often are we guilty of reacting to a message and writing back thoughtlessly rather than respectfully and professionally?

The most important thing you can do for your career is to learn to create email messages that are professional and respectful. Not only will you be less likely to be haunted by an email you've written that turns up as part of the discovery process in a court of law, but you'll get the results, respect and recognition you deserve.

Here are 6 important ideas to help you create more successful emails:
  • Use email only when it is the best communication medium. Ask yourself: Am I avoiding an important conversation by sending this email? Would it be better for each of us (the reader and me) if we could hear each other's tone of voice, and go back and forth on ideas in "real time"? Determine if you're using email to virtually manage, or if it is the most effective tool to use.
  • Respond to the issue, not the emotion Whatever you do, don't respond in haste. You can honor the person waiting for your response with a quick response, as long as the response is purposeful and respectful. Try, "I see this a bit differently. When is a good time for you so we can talk this through?" Another alternative is: "I need some time to think about your viewpoint. I'll get back to you before noon tomorrow."
  • Always give reasons when you make a request. Researchers at Harvard, McGill and other prestigious universities around the world have determined that response rate is almost doubled when the reason for the request is provided, along with the request. Even if you think the recipient of your email knows why you're asking, you'll get a better response if you tell him/her again. Rather than write: "Please send me your notes by Friday," write, "Please send me your notes by Friday so I can include your input and get the report to Corporate headquarters before their deadline."
  • Don't email jokes. Ever. Eliminate anything that is C, R or L. That's Crude, Rude and Lewd. How do you know if it's C, R or L? If you have to ask yourself if it is, it probably is.
  • Email isn't as formal as a traditional mail document and it isn't as informal as conversation. Email is a business communication and should be written with that in mind. Adhere to proper standards of grammar and punctuation. Email writers who can't be bothered to take a nanosecond to capitalize the beginning of a sentence, or insert a comma correctly, imply that they are too busy to pay attention to the details that would make their reader's lives easier. Is that the message you want to send?
  • Spell check and then read it. (I used to say re-read it but I'm beginning to think that some writers don't read what they write—ever!) Here are the latest entries into my "Thank Goodness I Didn't Write That" file (please send more examples!):
    • Hell Sue (instead of Hello Sue I'm lucky it didn't say, "go to...")
    • To a new General Manager with the name of Bob: Dear Boob (nice first impression, don't you think!)
    • To a member of the Royal family: Your Royal Heinous (writer lost the entire account)
Effective email writers create messages that are purposeful, respectful and professional. Keep these 6 ideas in mind to feel more confident with every email you send.

Copyright Sue Hershkowitz-Coore. All Rights Reserved.

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