The tone and intent of email is more difficult to predict without the verbal and body language cues people pick up in conversations. As a result, it’s easy for recipients to misunderstand or feel defensive when reading business emails. Now that email messages have become a preferred internal and external communication mode, it's critical to practice slowing down and gathering composure before writing or replying to an email message. Try these tips:
First, prepare an email message in your mind or on the screen before composing a final email.
When replying, re-read or reconsider the email, conversation or other matter you’re responding to. This is important for all messages, and especially when you’re angry. All too often, we read emails quickly the first time and craft a response mentally before we even complete the message. It’s a good idea to read again and verify facts. If the email caused anger or concern, it’s also a good idea to read it again after cooling off to check tone, trying to see words objectively rather than reading into them.
Take time to compose yourself before writing when upset, and especially before sending a response. Take a walk or switch to another project briefly to clear your head.
When reviewing your message, watch for inflammatory wording. Try to replace it with a more positive, constructive approach. Otherwise, you could just escalate a situation that was mostly harmless from the start.
Remember your etiquette. When in a hurry and upset, you might forget the critical greetings and closings that all email messages should contain. They’re even more important if your message could be perceived as terse in its content. Be sure to include a clear, but polite subject line, along with an appropriately polite and professional greeting and closing.
To avoid sending a hasty email response, especially accidentally, try this trick: Get in the habit of filling in your recipient line after composing your messages. Doing so keeps you from hitting send and regretting it later. It also can help avoid some of the problems associated with auto-filling of recipients, by the way. You’re much more likely to pay attention to how the line fills once you’ve settled down, written and reviewed your message.
Finally, it’s probably best to avoid conflict in email messages, so consider whether you should respond to situations that might escalate in this manner or deal with them in person. You might consider responding with a request to meet in person, or wandering down the hall to a colleague’s office once you feel settled and ready to talk.
If you want to improve your email writing and etiquette skills or those of your managers and employees, ask us how Business Writing That Counts! can help. Just give us a call: 425-485-3221.