It’s never nice to work in a toxic environment. There’s not a person in the world who wants to show up for work when stress and tensions are running high. Over time a toxic workplace will break team morale and dent company profits. One of the key rules for harmony in the workplace is clear communication.
Email is the most popular method of communication between colleagues, but unfortunately it can also cause the most confusion.
Why Does Email Cause Confusion?
Insights from SMYL suggest that we will be sending 320 billion emails a day in 2021, of which 52.8% will be for business purposes. Email writing is still the number one method of communication between colleagues, despite the rise of many alternative tools and apps.
Email is used regularly for a wide number of reasons, including updating the status of projects, contributing new approaches and delivering feedback. Yet more than two-thirds of recipients report that they have been left confused or even angry after receiving an email.
The reason for this is often down to miscommunication, rather than deliberate and vindictive attempts to sabotage colleagues. Email recipients have only got text to rely on to understand what is being said. With no verbal cues or body language, messages are much more open to (mis)interpretation than they would be in a face-to-face interaction.
Employees need to be extra careful when writing emails. If they don’t, they could contribute to a toxic workplace without even realising it!
Four Workplace Toxicities Caused By Poor Email Writing
Poor email writing can lead to four distinct but related problems in the workplace. They are:
Poor email writing leads to confused recipients, who may then attempt to clear up the misunderstanding with another email. If this too is written badly, then the cycle will continue and resentment will quickly build between colleagues.
Common causes of email confusion include contradictory information or requests, language that is taken the wrong way, repetition or chunks of text that contain irrelevant details.
The remedy for this is to make your emails clear and concise. Cover one topic or request per email. Cover the what, but also explain the why behind your thinking, so that the other person knows where you are coming from. Use simple affirmative language that is easy to understand to help to avoid misunderstandings.
Tension and Anger
One step up on the toxicity stepladder is tension and anger. Communication is the foundation of all relationships, and the workplace is no different. Yet with no tone or body language to read, emails often come off negative and affronting. This is especially true if you are delivering feedback or raising a concern, both common uses of emails between colleagues.
If the recipient feels like they are being talked down to or are facing needless criticism or bullying, then anger will fester. Anger and tension between employees is sure to lead to a toxic workplace.
The cure is to use pleasantries and positive language to lift the tone of the email. The ‘sandwich’ approach works well for email writing. Write a positive, followed by any objective criticism or feedback, and then round off with another positive to keep the recipient happy.
Team and Company Morale
Any tension between individuals can cause company morale to drop, as is the case when poor email writing occurs between two or more employees. This situation is exacerbated if an employee or manager sends out a badly worded email to the whole team at once.
When there are multiple recipients in a group email, perhaps a team working on the same project who are Cc’d, you need to take extra care when constructing messages. A serious misunderstanding or offensive email here could damage the whole team, leading to a near-instant bad vibe in the workplace, one that is difficult to handle.
Damage To Projects and Productivity
On a practical level, email is often used by team members to maintain the flow of a project and update each other on progress. When it works well, an email conversation becomes a living audit of your team’s progress on a project, complete with records of commitments and deadlines.
Poor email writing can lead to misunderstandings on a practical level, delaying projects and ultimately costing the company money.
When due dates are inaccurate, or intentions and milestones miscommunicated, this can send an otherwise timely project into disarray. To prevent this, you should focus on being accurate when it comes to practicalities, and should give measurable updates on progress.
Smooth Email Writing For Workplace Harmony
Over time, the prolonged effects of poor email writing will grind away at the soul of your business and make for a toxic workplace. Employees will be confused and bitter. Projects become delayed as communication between team members breaks down. Make no mistake that you need to take email writing seriously!
Smooth email writing is a delicate process. It is both an art and a science. It requires understanding and intuition, but it is also statistical and analytical. Training and technology can ensure this difficult balance is achieved, removing the pitfalls we’ve highlighted. With the right support, your workplace will experience the harmony that can only come from effective communication.