The Problem with Email

We have all read emails from friends or colleagues and were uncertain of whether the person was upset with us, having a bad day, or didn’t carefully read their message. We’ve not only received those emails, but we probably have sent them too. 

Now that so many more people are working remotely, there is a greater reliance on email so there is the likelihood of even more confusion. It always helps when we can communicate face to face as we can read their facial expressions or hear their tone of voice. 

When you are writing emails, think of the following ideas:

  • Take your time and think about the message you want to convey. What are the main points?
  • It helps if you outline your thoughts. If you have an important email to send, make clear any assignments or responses that are needed. Stick with your outline in writing the actual message. That will help you avoid a stream-of-consciousness rambling. 
  • Use language that the reader will understand. Every profession uses its own jargon, and it’s ok to use it if you are writing to a peer. But if you are a doctor and tell a patient that you need to treat their “xerosis”, they might consider preparing a will, rather than get something over the counter for their dry skin. 
  • Avoid long-winded emails. You don’t need to review every last detail of a meeting or a conversation.  
  • Read your emails carefully before you send them. For critical emails, you might have someone else check your message for accuracy and tone. 
  • Don’t use an email to criticize or try to get even. At least have the decency to talk to people face to face if you have something negative to say. 

Now, if you are on the other side of the email and unsure of what it means, my recommendation is that you slow down. Don’t always assume that an email that has a negative tone.  When in doubt, visit with the author in person or via the phone. Anything else is cowardly and can only make a situation worse. 

If the email is from a customer or client who has a complaint or criticism, give yourself a couple of days to respond. Consider something like, “Thanks for your letter. While I disagree with your position, I do appreciate your input.”

Email can be an essential means of communication, but they can also work to the disadvantage of you and the person on the other end.

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