8 Tips to Improve Those Frustrating Emails
Published: July 25, 2012
For us consultants, being able to communicate via email matters a lot. Just to illustrate this, just count up the amount of time that you spend reading or responding to emails over a 5-day period. A large organization conducted a similar test and found that the amount of time that each employee spends on his/her email accounts for an average of $15,200 of their yearly salary, representing $152 million a year in wages! Just simply looking at these staggering figures shows that email takes up a large part of our day, but there’s much more than just this.
Even when people speak face-to-face with their clients, they subconsciously rely on nonverbal cues that let them know whether or not their client is engaged, excited, or bored. It is this reliance on such cues that provides us, as consultants, with a way to gauge how our message comes across so that we can adapt and change our own communication strategy. We have all heard of the statistic that 70-90% of our communication happens nonverbally, and even though this figure is rather difficult to measure, other studies have actually shown that the absence of face-to-face contact when trying to communicate a message increases heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety, and frustration. On top of all this, when people read emails, they generally “fill in the gaps” and either try to read between the lines or project their own thoughts and apprehensions into the message.
Whether you like it or not, email is (and will be) a large part your consulting life now and well into the future. The best we can do is to educate ourselves and our clients about communication (verbal, non-verbal, and email) while laying down a few ground-rules that make reading, writing, and understanding emails much more simple and less time-consuming. To help us out, I have scoured communication research to identify some simple steps to improving your emails and ensuring that your clients won’t experience the negative effects that are described above.
Steps to Improving Your Emails:
(1) Begin with a clear goal/purpose: Identify the purpose up front and craft the email around it
Avoid: Multiple purposes or messages in a single email
(2) Lead with a greeting: Remember your audience and always use the first line to greet them by name
Avoid: Using informal greetings like “Yo” or “Hey” for clients or bosses
(3) Keep it brief, straightforward, clear: First line should always explain the reason for the email, and specific request(s) should be at the end
Avoid: Writing multiple paragraphs with requests or questions scattered throughout- chances are you won’t get what you need
(4) Use bullet points: Using bullet points to convey details, questions, or requests make them easier to respond to
Avoid: Not using bullet points. Seriously! I put them in every email
(5) Read through when finished: Read your email aloud (it really helps identify awkward sentences) and check for spelling and grammar
Avoid: Clicking “send” the second you finish typing
(6) Use a closing block: Can include a statement (e.g., “Sincerely”), name, position, and phone #. These can be easily added in your email’s settings
Avoid: “Peace out! -R”
(7) Put purpose in subject bar: Just a few quick words that summarize the single purpose of your email (e.g., “Question about yesterday’s meeting”)
Avoid: Irrelevant subject bars, or especially ones that say “Forward me to 20 people and you will find true love”
(8) Know when NOT to use email: Sometimes emails are not the best approach for communicating something with a client, like when an issue is highly important, time sensitive, complex, or where any time conflict is involved. It is up to you as a consultant to decide when to put down the laptop and pick up the cell phone.
There are plenty more email do’s and don’ts out there, but I like these eight because they are focused on structure, brevity, and professionalism. Writing such emails not only communicates to your clients that you respect their time, but you are also much more likely to get a response in a timely manner. The biggest takeaways are: One purpose per email and keep them short and sweet!
About the Author: Robert Bullock, MA. Robert works at Scontrino Powell, a consulting agency specializing in organizational psychology
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