Is your office embroiled in email warfare, with people sending passive-aggressive messages or getting worked up into a froth after taking an email the wrong way? Email can be a hotbed of miscommunication, but there are ways to ensure your emails are clear, effective, and are interpreted the way you intended.
In today’s Communication Q&A we’ll look at strategies for creating excellent emails. You’ll learn how to create an effective and efficient message, ensure your emails don’t get taken the wrong way, and communicate your intent without resorting to cutesy emojis. Clear, polite, professional emails are within your grasp!
Watch the video below, scroll down to read the full transcript, or click here to watch it on YouTube.
Now it’s over to you! Have you ever received – or sent – an email that was stretching the boundaries of “professionalism” (or one that was downright inappropriate in an office environment?). Share it in the comments below…and don’t worry, you don’t need to give any identifying information. Unless you really want to.
If this video has helped you improve your office email culture, be sure to click the ‘like’ button, subscribe to my YouTube channel, and share it with your colleagues!
Good morning, good day, good evening – whatever your time is – I’m Lauren Sergy, and this is Communication Q&A, where I help you figure out your sticky communication situations in work and life.
Today we have a great question from Sarah, who asks:
“Lauren, my office has an email problem. People are taking emails the wrong way, getting offended over nothing, and using passive aggressive language. I don’t like the idea of filling my email with cutesy emojis and smiley faces just to make sure people know I’m friendly, but I’m worried about inadvertently offending someone every time I hit the ‘send’ button! How can I send polite, professional emails that don’t get taken the wrong way?
You’ve hit on something that worries a lot of people, Sarah. While email is a godsend in many ways, there’s one arena where it causes serious stress: email doesn’t contain any of the non-verbal cues that we use when interpreting someone’s meaning. Tone of voice, body language, meaningful pauses, stress, rhythm – those all get stripped away from the text.
Now any reasonable adult knows this, and if we were all perfectly logical creatures, we’d write and read emails with a totally neutral tone. But we aren’t built that way! Non-verbal cues are super important for how we convey and interpret a message. It’s so important that When we write or read something, our brains will assign “tone” to those words without us even realizing it.
And that tone is going to be affected by the writer or reader’s mood, inclinations, personality, baggage, how well they know you, and so on.
That’s exactly why so many people use emojis – they’re a stand in for non-verbal cues, and are actually a pretty effective way of conveying those non-verbal cues in writing so that people can more easily understand our tone and intentions.
But emojis have two big drawbacks. One, they can come across as passive aggressive, especially if they’re sprinkled in a message that is urgent or tense. And you identified the second problem, Sarah – they can definitely come across as juvenile and unprofessional.
So what are we to do? How can we make our tone clear and friendly while still maintaining our professionalism?
Your first step is to make sure that you use clear, direct language in your email, keeping the message to the point and making your wants and needs clear. I like to stick to one or two points or questions in the email, and to make it as easy as possible for the reader to understand what I’m driving at.
Next, if I’m dealing with a situation that has any sort of tension or that is touchy with other people, I’ll make sure I include context so the other person understand where I’m coming from and why I’m asking them something. I let them know where my head is at and why so the reader doesn’t have to guess at it.
Let’s say that a co-worker and I were working with a short-tempered client and my co-worker has come up with a proposal to send to them. Instead of emailing my team member and saying “Is your proposal going to piss off our client?” which could come across as panicky or as aggressively challenging my co-worker, I would write:
“Hey, I’m worried that we’re going to get on the wrong side with this client. They’ve reacted badly to similar proposals in the past – could that be a risk here? What are your thoughts on this?”
In this email, I’m letting them know that I’m not challenging how good the proposal is, but rather am concerned about whether the client will blow up over it. I also tell my co-worker WHY I’m worried about this – because this client has done that in the past. Then, instead of slamming the proposal, I ask for my co-worker’s opinion, which gives them a chance to look at the proposal again from my point of view and weigh in on my concerns. This helps them feel less defensive about the proposal and more responsive to my worries.
Once I’ve written the email, I the read it out loud in a few different tones of voice. Hearing your email out loud will help give you an idea of what it might sound like to your co-worker. Consider your co-worker’s personality, or their current circumstances.
If they’re a pessimistic or panicky person, use that sort of tone when reading the email. If they’re under a lot of pressure or are stressed out or tired, read the email with those emotions in mind. You might discover that when you read those words out loud, with the tone your co-worker is likely to adopt, that the message sounds very different.
If that’s the case, go ahead and rework your email until you’re able to strike the right tone. For important emails, it might mean that you have to re-work it a couple of times. And remember, keep it as short and to the point as possible.
Now if you’re dealing with a really difficult or complicated situation, you might want to re-consider using email altogether. It might be a better idea to pick up the phone, schedule a meeting, or hop on a videoconference chat so that you can talk to the person in real time. This might feel strange if you’re out of practice or used to dealing with the person via email, but it can really help improve communication dynamics.
I hope this helps you strike that more professional tone while clearing up some of the unintended offense floating around in those emails, Sarah.
Now I’ve got a question for all of you – Do you have a favorite way of making your tone clear in your emails? Have you ever written something that was taken completely the wrong way? Share your tips or story in the comments below.
If you’ve found this episode helpful, please click that like button, subscribe and hit that bell to get notifications about new videos, and head to laurensergy.com and sign up for more communication tips from your’s truly.
Thanks for joining me here today, and I look forward to seeing you on the next Communication Q&A!