We’ve all been there. You send an email, seconds later realising that your message could easily be taken the wrong way. You may even have caused offense. You send another one to cover your back, but all this does is makes the situation more confusing. You’re in a state of panic now. Has this misunderstanding just cost you a customer? Severed a relationship with a colleague?
Misunderstanding & Mails – A Match Made In Heaven
Email writing is the number one method of communication with colleagues. It’s also an important aspect of business, essential for marketing, lead generation and sales. Yet email writing also happens to be the medium with the highest potential for misunderstanding.
Misunderstandings are a common cause of interpersonal problems, and they can happen whether you are talking face-to-face or online. It’s just that the digital world brings even more chance for confusion. The reason for this is that around 93% of communication is non-verbal. Humans generally rely more on body language and tone of voice than on the actual words.
During face-to-face meetings you can read body language, and phone calls at least allow for tone, yet neither of these signals can be fully conveyed when it comes to email writing. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that people tend to misread the tone and mood of emails around half of the time, no better than if they were to guess. You could start out with perfectly good intentions and still offend someone!
Use A Positive Tone
Email writing is no easy task. Emails tend to come across in a negative tone if they are left neutral. With no smiles and nods of agreement, it’s quite difficult to come across positive, especially if you are raising concerns, or making criticisms or requests.
To counter this, you can use good manners and add pleasantries to soften the tone. A simple “Hope you had a good weekend” or “How are you?” should do it. There is an argument for using pleasantries after the main content of the email, so that they don’t come across as part of a ploy. If you need to be sure, you can use the sandwich method, shown below:
“You did a really good job on project A.
Unfortunately, you will need to revise X,Y and Z so that they meet the given requirements.
Thank you for your work so far, and let me know if you need anything else.”
In the example above, the ‘negative’ or critical element of the message is sandwiched in between two positive elements to create an overall tone of positivity.
The debate is on when it comes to using emoticons. A lot depends on what business you are in and who you are talking to. Advocates say that you can soften the tone of an email and convey emotions effectively, but critics say that their use is unprofessional. Emoticons should not be used often, but they can come in handy. The most important consideration is your relationship with the recipient.
Creating Clear Emails
Email writing should be clear and concise if you want to avoid any misunderstanding. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind and tips to follow that will help:
- Stick to one topic per email. There’s nothing worse than having to juggle several areas of discussion within one thread. Start a separate thread if you need to talk about multiple topics.
- Remove repetition, unnecessary sentences or sections, and any irrelevant subject matter. This will make for a more palatable word count, and ensure your main point is never lost in translation.
- Explain the whys as well as the what. Support your statements with explanations. For example, “I won’t be in work, as I have twisted my ankle.” This will ensure your colleague or customer understands you, and doesn’t think you are being short or fobbing them off.
- Balance length and tone. Sometimes it is polite to use pleasantries even when messages are short, and to elaborate slightly on very blunt responses. Instead of “Yes”, say “Yes, I will deliver on Thursday.”
- Avoid accusatory statements, sarcasm and jokes that can be taken badly, loaded phrases, USING CAPS TO GET YOUR POINT ACROSS, and writing when you are feeling angry. All of these can lead to serious misunderstandings when email writing.
The Most Crucial Moment
The most crucial moment of any email transmission is the moment before you press “Send”. It’s the point of no return. Once you hit the button there’s no going back. So take a moment to read and re-read your email before sending. Check spelling and grammar, but also read the email from the recipient’s perspective to see if there is any potential for misunderstanding. Edit or even re-write the email if needed.
If you only listen to one piece of advice in this article, it should be this: proofread your email writing.
The SMYL Solution
A central element of the SMYL solution is designed to help avoid misunderstanding when email writing. Our software analyses the structure, tone and language of your writing to make sure your email resonates with who you are communicating to. We make real-time business and language suggestions, turning good emails turn into great ones and helping you understand the person on the other side.
To be one of the first to receive the benefits of our solution, please join our early access list here.