This is Part 2 of a two part guide to managing your emails covering email content and what should and should not be included within an email to ensure it is effective.
Managing the Content of Emails
The major problem with what we put in our emails is the fact that people interpret information in different ways. This is why managing the content of your emails is important to ensure your email are effective.
To show an example of this, read the following statement:
“We could manage this project”
Now read it out loud. What is the meaning of this statement? How did you interpret the message from this written statement?
Did you interpret the message as:
- “We could manage this project” = “We want to lead/ take charge of the project”
- “We could manage this project” = “I think we could do the project”
One of these statements is extremely positive and the other is slightly doubtful. The difference is the way the receiver can interpret the message.
7. Restrict emails to reason and logic
If you are sending a message with any emotional intent or if it is likely to have an impact on the receiver’s emotions, look for a way other than email to send it. This will often be face-to-face but as a last resort use the phone or Skype. The use of emails should be restricted to deal with logic and reason.
Emails are unlike any other written word as they often do not have a great deal of thought put into them, unlike books or newspapers. They are not read in the same way and they can be re-read by the receiver many times over, possibly interpreting the meaning differently. Often emails are written quickly and sometimes without review, yet they have replaced much of the face-to-face communication and phone communication that once made up so much of our interpersonal relationships.
Emails lack all of the non-verbal communication that is going on all the time as people talk face-to-face. In terms of interpreting messages, studies have suggested that in face-to-face communication:
- 55% is through non-verbal signals such as body language
- 38% is through the tone of voice being used
- 7% is via the actual words that are spoken (verbal)
From this we can see that email communication lacks the non-verbal indicators making it very easy to misinterpret something.
8. Avoid the ‘you’ word in emails
With the above in mind, it is important to avoid unintentionally impacting the receiver’s feelings. This can be achieved not only by re-reading the message carefully before sending it but also by avoiding the word ‘you’ in the message.
Do not use any ‘smilies’ or similar ‘emoticons’ as this will have no positive effect – for some people it may work against you as many people detest them
When used to describe past behaviour, ‘you’ infers blame. Although not intended this way, the receiver may interpret it as being blamed. What can start out as a genuine conversation between two people can quickly and easily deteriorate into an argument when someone reacts negatively to a ‘you’ comment by retaliating with one of their own.
To avoid this issue simply replacing ‘you’ with ‘I’ can be a very powerful technique of getting a message across without offending the recipient.
Don’t say: ‘You never do that for me’ Say: ‘I would like you to do that for me’
9. Decide the intention of your email
It is important to identify the intention of your email by asking yourself the following questions before you type anything into a new message:
- Why am I writing this?
- What exactly do I want the result of the message to be?
- What do I want the receiver to do as a result of the message?
As Part 1 of this story has already explained, we receive so many emails on a daily basis that if we have not clearly and precisely decided what we want from your message then the recipient is likely to take no notice of it.
There are three reasons for an email:
- To provide information
- To request information
- To request action
Make it clear on what you want from your email – if it is not clear to you then it will not be clear to the receiver
10. Use the subject line effectively
As already indentified in Part 1, people often review/ scan through their emails by subject line before opening them. This makes it even more important that you use the subject line effectively in order to grab the attention of the recipient.
Make the subject line a summary of the intent of your message
Review/ Change the subject line to reflect a response to an email and/or a change of intent of your email
This simple technique of summarising the intent of your emails within the subject line can have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of them. The more descriptive the subject line the more chance it will be opened, actioned and replied to. It will also be easier to go back and find a specific email amongst many emails from the same person.
11. Set out the context of your message
There are three techniques which can have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of your emails:
- Decide the intent of your email
- Use the subject line effectively
- Set out the context of your message
By setting out the context of your message in the first paragraph you will minimise the chance of an email being misinterpreted by the receiver.
A poor opening paragraph would be “I agree with your recommendations”. With this statement the receiver may be unsure to what recommendations you may be referring to; also there may be a number of recommendations making it unclear which you may be agreeing to. A better opening paragraph could be “This email is to confirm our phone conversation and agreement reached yesterday. It is okay to use a different report format for this project”.
12. Make it clear why people are copied or ‘cc’ into emails
One of the things that annoy people most is being copied into emails when there is really no need. This just adds to other’s inboxes and instead of helping the copied person it annoys them and could reduce their productivity.
People should only be copied into an email for a valid reason; otherwise they should not be included at all. It is important that you make this decision when you send out emails. See a simple flow chart which can help you decide whether or not they should be included.
After you have carefully considered who should be copied in it is also useful to mention, within the body of the email, why they have been included and what you require from them. For example you can use their initials to highlight their attention such as “JD DECISION NEEDED: How many people will be attending the event tomorrow?”
In some circumstances, after reflection, it may be necessary to send them a separate email instead of copying them in. Although this may take extra time it may ultimately improve your communication and speed up the decision making process.
Recognising that emails can be so easily misinterpreted, it is important to remember that they can be read many times over, even in a court of law, so be careful what you put into an email before you send it!
It is also important to remember that not everyone prefers to use emails so try to match your communication medium to the preferences of the receiver. If someone is poor at responding to emails for whatever reason then find an alternative way to communicate with that person. Most importantly, if you feel your message is likely to have an emotional impact then communicate face-to-face or by phone rather than using email.
If you have a topic or an area you would like us to cover in a future article then contact us today.