Monday, 04 March 2019
Organisations around the world are introducing measures to limit the impact of email overload on employees. As a founder, you may feel like you have less control around the number of emails you have to send to get your business off the ground, making it all the more important that each one you send his impactful and worth your time.
Follow our expert tips for writing, clear and explicit emails that get results.
“When you write better emails, you set a new barometer of excellence — inspiring everyone around you to communicate more clearly and effectively, too,” writes communications expert Alexander Franzen in The Muse. “One well-written email can change someone’s day, shift someone’s attitude, nudge a project into motion, or even change someone’s life. You never know what the ripple effects might be.”
For Franzen, the core principle at the heart of every great email is brevity. She advocates for getting stuck straight into the point of the email (“I know you’re busy so I’ll get straight to the point…”); focusing on one key takeaway per email rather than writing a beautifully-written manifesto (“The one thing I need from you right now is…); and being ultra specific about what you need, when you need it by or, if no action is required, making that clear too (“No response necessary” are what Franzen describes as “some of the most beautiful words on earth”).
If you’re struggling to keep your email to under a few sentences, question whether email is the best medium for this particular topic. Perhaps a phone call, face-to-face meeting or Skype chat is the best route.
Intentions can all to easily become lost in electronic translation; requesting that someone sends you something by 5pm might not cause any issues when delivered with a smile over a coffee, but without body language or voice signifiers, your recipient might perceive you as bossy or even rude.
“Put yourself in the shoes of the recipient, and read your email again. Are you being too demanding, inflexible, accusatory, judgmental, formal or informal, or apologetic? Finding the right tone can be tricky, but it is achievable,” says attorney and prolific email sender Avery Blank in her article for Levo.
It’s all about balance, she cautions: “Being too informal in your language (“How’s it goin?!”) might detract from your authority. At the same time, being too formal can make it difficult for the recipient to find a human or emotional connection with you.” If in doubt, sleep on it or ask a colleague to read your draft before hitting send.
Whether formal or informal, take care to ensure your email sounds like you. To remain truly authentic, follow the advice favoured by celebrated English novelist Jane Austen: “Write as you speak.”
This advice was previously promoted by the great thinker Aristotle in around 360BC. Artemon, the editor of his letters maintained, according to a BBC Magazine report, “a letter should be written in the same manner as a dialogue”. So, unless you speak in flowery, overly-formal language, leave it out of your email correspondence. And the acid test? Read your email aloud and delete anything that doesn’t sound like something you’d say in conversation.
It goes without saying that you don’t want to instill a sense of dread in your readers, but it’s very easy to unintentionally allow negative language and tone to overwhelm your correspondence.
Deloitte consultant and ‘netiquette’ expert Yogeshree Tawdree tells her LinkedIn followers to ensure that subject lines and openers in particular are upbeat and positive. If you’re in the position of needing to share news of massive delays to a project, focus on “change” rather than “lateness”. Rather than discuss “huge problems”, focus on “solutions needed” for “current situations”. Highlight what you can do (“deliver this information to you once I’m done with a Wednesday deadline) rather than what you can’t (“start on this before mid week”). Looking for ways to subtly shift the contents to something more positive will improve the way both you and your emails are received by the sender.
Your sent folder is probably one of the least accessed in your email programme, but it’s worth taking the time to reflect on some of the past emails you’ve sent to spot any patterns of communication you want to eliminate.
In his report for the World Economic Forum, executive coach David Peck recommends selecting a sample of your sent emails, aiming for a cross section of notes sent on good days and bad, to groups and individuals, on formal topics and everyday scenarios.
Take an honest view of where your communications have fallen down. Did a high ‘cc’ thread get out of control with too many people chipping in? Did an individual back and fore result in both parties missing the point? Are you neglecting to use the subject line to succinctly drive home your message? Are you surprised by the volume of waffle, typos or grammar mistakes you make? Are you guilty of skim-reading responses? Take stock of whatever you can learn from hindsight.