How to Make Your Emails Sound More…Human
Via LinkedIn : Despite the rise of collaboration tools like Slack, email is still the tool of choice for communicating and getting things done.
Perhaps because email has been around for such a long time—as measured in Internet years, at least—it’s easy to overlook the enormous power of the medium. We can get a lot done with just a few simple emails.
But the ease and speed with which we can convey our thoughts and share information through email also increases the chances of writing something that can be easily construed by the recipient as confusing, insensitive…or downright rude.
From the thousands of emails I’ve written and received over the years, I’ve observed a number of recurring styles and behaviors that people deploy in their emails. I’ve read many emails that were sensitively-worded and well-written. I’ve also read many that were not.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you want to write emails that sound more…human:
Start with a greeting.
Would you start a conversation in person or on the phone by launching directly into what you want to say, without at least a simple “Hello”, or “How are you?” Unless you’re completely oblivious to the basic principles of human etiquette, of course not!
So why do so many people launch into emails without a simple greeting like “Hi”, “Hello”, “Hey”, or even the old-fashioned “Dear”?
Sure, once you’ve struck up a conversation in email and you start pinging each other with your quick responses, you can drop the pleasantries. But for that initial email that kicks off your electronic discussion, use a greeting.
Imagine you’re having a face-to-face conversation.
No matter how you express yourself through the words you write, email will always lack the subtle cues that you communicate through your facial expressions or tone of voice when you speak to someone in-person. These are critical signals that tell you how a person is reacting to what you’re saying, real-time feedback you need to shape your message.
Especially when writing sensitive emails that have the potential to be easily misconstrued, try to imagine the recipient is looking at you as you write, or reading what you’re writing, as you’re writing it.
Listen to your email “voice”.
Do you listen to the “sound” of your email “voice” when you write? You certainly have one, and it’s what people hear when they read your emails.
But too often we’re in a rush, under pressure, or otherwise focused on getting what we want, without considering the feelings or circumstances of the person we’re writing to.
When you’re sharing tough news verbally, you can adjust the tone, tempo, and volume of your voice in real-time—and with an extraordinary level of nuance. Email lacks this flexibility, so pay as much care to your choice of words when you write emails as you would when conversing with them in-person. This becomes especially important when delivering criticism of any sort.
And it’s not just the content of your message that you need to be more conscious of. Capitalizing all of the letters in a word (or sentence) may drive your point home more forcefully, but it also makes you look like you’re SHOUTING.
When asking for something, give a reason.
Ever get an email asking for something, but with no explanation why the person wants or needs it? I have. And it usually sounds like an order, not a request.
Include a reason whenever you ask for something by email. It’s a lot more motivating, it conveys respect, and it builds trust.
Think twice before adding someone to the conversation.
Have you ever had someone reply to your email—that you addressed only to her—and she added one, two, or several people to the “cc” field to bring them into the conversation? In some cases it’s appropriate and even necessary, as long as you acknowledge who you’re bringing into the conversation and why.
In other situations, it’s awkward and potentially rude to introduce others into an email conversation that wasn’t intended for a broader audience. It’s like you’re inviting a group of people at a cocktail party to listen-in on your private conversation.
Imagine you’ve just put “Entire World” in the “cc:” field.
It can happen: That private email you’ve just written for one person? Watch it become an instant viral hit that bounces off satellites and circles the globe many times over, just because the person decides to hit “forward”, or includes a few extra people in the “cc:” field when he replies.
So step back from your laptop for a few moments, or put your message into the “drafts” folder for a day, before hitting “send” on sensitive email you think will stay private—but probably won’t.
Just take it off-line.
Okay, so email is failing you. It’s making things worse. Declare a ceasefire on the typing war, close your email app, and pick-up the phone (or meet face-to-face).
I haven’t always gotten the art and craft of writing email right, and I try to learn from my mistakes. I do hope that we can all become more aware of the powerful impact that email can have on the people we are addressing them to, and get better at writing ones that sound more…human.
How do you write emails that sound more human? Share your advice in the comments.
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