17th October 2019
by Charlotte Wilson
Communications, thoughts, Workplace
Let’s face it, communicating via email is the default position for most of us on a day-to-day basis. It’s efficient, effective and you can save a lot of time by pinging off a concise email in seconds, rather than spending 30 minutes on a phone-call, dancing around polite small talk.
In essence, sending an email removes the real-time emotional response that you might be having to a communication. This isolation of immediate emotion can be very important in many professional transactions, however, it can also remove some of the most valuable information needed from a conversation. It’s a delicate balance.
For example, when you talk to a person face to face (assuming that they’re not a psychopath, which is probably more common than you think…) you rely heavily upon non-verbal information to read the tone and intent of the person you’re talking to. Factors like facial expression, posture, hand gestures, eye contact and voice tone are generally good indicators of whether a conversation is going really well, or whether they think you’re a complete moron, and if you can’t relate to feeling like that, then you’re probably the moron…
So, without these all important verbal tell-tale signs, when it comes to email communication our minds tend to fill in the blanks of the what the sender meant and how they feel about the general communication. And, spoiler alert, we rarely fill in these blanks with positive conclusions, silly us hey. Thus ensues the inevitable misunderstandings, possible damaged relationships, and sometimes – bad business decisions. All based upon an misinterpreted, written conversation.
Considering THAR the majority of us now communicate at lightning, unrelenting speed across text, social media and dating apps, you’d think that we’d be much better at conveying an appropriate tone in all written, instant communication, but alas, we’re kinda not quite there yet. Plus, unfortunately people tend to remember the emotional tone of an email for a much longer duration than they do the actual content (same for text exchanges with your potential and/or significant other, FYI)
Remember that just because you write in a particular way, this doesn’t mean that the person reading it will receive it in the same way.
When you talk to someone face-to-face you are in a shared environment, this means that you are physically in the same space. This does not mean however, that you are experiencing the same emotions. Whereas one person could be fairly stress-free and happy, the other could be dealing with a multitude of deadlines and personal issues that will affect their mood and response. When you are sharing a physical space with someone, this should be pretty easy to recognise (if it’s not, then please refer back to my earlier quip about psychopaths…) and this means that you can adjust your tone and pace accordingly.
Therefore, when we are communicating via email, we must always, always try to remember that the receiver may not be in the same mood or emotional state as we are. So, something that reads to you as a fair assessment of your current climate or situation, could easily come across as un-aware and inappropriate to someone else. The key? To always try to imagine how the person receiving it could interpret your words.
For example, if the message in your email is ambiguous, most people will automatically infer negative emotions and intentions into it, rather than positive ones. You might think this all sounds a little too sensitive? Well, look at it this way, have you ever made a comment about someone not responding to your email? Did you assume that they were being rude or negligent, or were even avoiding the issue? How about when someone wrote a one-word reply to your carefully thought-out, over-adjectivey explanation about a deadline? Because I know that this can make even the most hardened of us quiver in anxiety, right?
All of the above can result in days, even weeks, of misaligned professional relationships and can often stunt and even halt those working relationships. So, to convey your intended email emotional tone, consider these few things…
• Assess your relationship with the recipient and adjust your level of formality to match this relationship appropriately. If they’re chatty and personable, respond in kind. If they’re succinct and to the point, then avoid the small talk – or else you might end up pushing your own nose out of joint in unnecessary anguish.
• Email is more than just the transmission of information. It is about managing a relationship remotely. So, always try and lead with a social comment but don’t over complicate the exchange with unnecessary information if you don’t have that close of a relationship with the recipient, they won’t respect you for it.
• If you think there is room for a misinterpretation of your message, then ensure you re-read and re-write your message to confirm your true intention.
• Try not say “lol” or “BTW” unless you know the person really, really well. The same goes for using emojis. Save those for Tinder and the group Slack chat, just to be safe.
• Be super careful with cc’s and bcc’s that aren’t necessary, as this is often the universally acknowledged business language of “I’m telling mum on you”. And, if you’ve ever felt undermined by someone using a cc in this way, then you can be sure that your recipient will feel the same sting, and stew on it for days afterwards.
• If you type in in ALL CAPS, then you are effectively shouting at someone, PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS.
• Over punctuating does not translate well, nor does it make you look witty or intelligent, so try to tone it down!!!!
• Take your time, if you’re not sure about your tone, then park it in the draft folder and revisit it later on. It’s amazing how taking a step back and revisiting what you’ve written can reveal a tone that you didn’t intend, so it’s best to be safe before you’ve hastily pressed send.
• Most importantly, don’t forget to take the time to meet with people face to face sometimes, so that you can stare lovingly into their eyes and make the world a better place….ok ok, too far…maybe I’m the psychopath…
Thanks for reading our insight into how to keep your email tone in check and make sure you’re sending the right message to your colleagues and clients when communicating in a non-verbal way.
For more insight on how we think and what we have to say about a multitude of things, check out our Thoughts page right here.
Thanks for reading!