I was once a product manager in the IT industry. I was new to the job and eager to please. One day an important client criticised my product. I took his comments personally. Complaining back at the office, my director was unsympathetic. He told me to ‘take the emotion out of business’ and to stick to the facts.
Fast forward many years. My director’s advice still resonates with me. The problem is that technology has created an emotionless business world. Business people communicate mainly through email. It is easier and much quicker than picking up the phone to speak to a client or a supplier. But emails can have negative implications for both the sender and receiver.
One of the issues we deal with in The Plain Language Programme is email etiquette. So what are the emotional aspects of emails and how can we avoid misunderstandings?
- Acknowledge the recipient as a human being - Many people forget the use of ‘Dear X’ and dive into the message of the email. Acknowledge the human being on the receiving end of the email. I prefer using ‘Hello’ and the person’s name. Ensure that you get the spelling of the person’s name correct. If not, the message you are sending is ‘You are not important to me’.
- Avoid the easy-way-out email. Unlike my client who told me directly that he did not like my product, today’s businessperson tends to manage difficult issues by sending off an email. It is easier to send an email rather than engage in conversation with people. Difficult issues should be handled face-to-face.
- Avoid writing in anger - Never write an email when emotions are running high. Calm down and then send it. Better still, pick up the phone and engage in a good old-fashioned conversation.
- Remove loaded phrases- Sarcasm does not come across well in written messages. 'It just seems odd …' makes the sender sound patronising and will, undoubtedly, evoke an emotional response from the recipient.
- Don’t shout - The sender may be in a rush and does not notice that THE CAPS LOCK IS ON. THE ENTIRE EMAIL IS WRITTEN IN UPPER CASE. INSTEAD OF REWRITING THE EMAIL USING LOWER CASE, THE SENDER THINKS ‘SO WHAT?’ It does make a difference. It is the same as shouting at someone.
- Remove smiley faces - During my research, there was a school of thought that said using emoticons reveals the human behind the email. I disagree. Emoticons are for friends. Emoticons are for informal communication. Using emoticons in business reveals an unprofessional human.
- Ask questions - Instead of demanding, ask. Instead of diving straight into the main message, say, 'I trust you are well'. It is more formal than 'How are you?' but it does show that you are interested in the recipient’s well-being.
- Say goodbye - Like the forgotten salutation, signing off the email is often taken for granted. Worse still, it is forgotten completely. This is the same as walking out of someone’s home without saying goodbye.
- End on the right note - The sign-off can reveal a lot about you. Create a professional ending to your email. ‘Faithfully’ sounds fake, ditto ‘Yours truly’ and imagine how a client may react to 'With love'. Signing off can be professional and still reveal the human part of business. Writers Write uses either ‘Kind regards’ or ‘Warm regards’. This provides some flexibility depending on your relationship with the recipient.
These are a few suggestions for email users to create the ‘human face’ behind the words. Business is tough so the human touch without the ‘touchy-feely’ will go a long way to maintaining a professional relationship.
If you want to improve your business writing, join us for The Plain Language Programme.
by Ulrike Hill
Ulrike is a ghost writer, writing consultant, manuscript appraiser and the author of two books. Ulrike Hill facilitates creative and business writing courses for Writers Write. She also lecturers English and Communication Science at Varsity College. Follow Ulrike on Twitter and Facebook and visit her LinkedIn profile.
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