Effective Email (Part 3)

Several recent studies show that email is deceptively more difficult that most people are aware.   Research reveals that 78% of people believe they are clearly communicating and 89% of receivers believe they are correctly interpreting an email.  However, the unfortunate reality is that the receiver correctly interprets an email message only 56% of the time!  Why the discrepancy? Email is devoid of body language, facial expressions, vocal inflection, gestures, and other nonverbal cues which make up 93% of face-to-face communication!  Though an email is easy and convenient to write, we often forget that the other person may not interpret what we type the way we meant it especially since the only things the receiver can use to interpret our email message are the words we choose to use.  This leads to various misunderstandings as the receiver may misinterpret your intentions and tone by reading too much into the email. While there is no perfect way to communicate and each receiver is a unique individual, there are some tips that will help you communicate more effectively over email. 1. Consider your audience Before you begin to formulate your email, consider who it is you are writing to.  How well do they know you and your thoughts on the topic you are about to discuss?  What assumptions might they have about the topic that you may have to overcome?  What terms might you use that they may not be familiar with?  Which words or terms might be taken negatively?  How many people will be reading this email and would they all feel the same about this topic?  Knowing your audience is important if you are to relate to them or you will miss opportunities to communicate effectively and increase your chances of being misunderstood. 2. Read it over out loud before you hit send It’s almost impossible to edit or proof your own writing which is why a good editor is worth so much, but it isn’t practical to hire an editor for a simple email.  So what’s an emailer to do?  You may, indeed, read right over your own mistakes when you read silently.  I advocate reading your email over out loud before you hit send to catch the glaringly obvious “mis takes”. 3. Check for inflammatory words As you are reading over the email, or even on a second read if the topic is controversial, keep in mind any words that might be interpreted as inflammatory.  These are any words that are unnecessarily emotional or could be seen as rude.  If you find one, try replacing it with a less emotionally-charged word. 4. Make sure it's not accusatory As you are reading, scan for any words or terms that might make the reader feel as if you are accusing them or even suggesting they have done something wrong-especially if they have not.  Many times emails are misinterpreted because the receiver feels the sender is hinting that they have done someone wrong.  Even if the recipient has done something wrong, it’s not always effective to tell them so-especially in a setting such as a public Yahoo group. 5. Look at email with the eyes of those who don’t know you It might help to read the email over by trying to see it through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know you or the topic.  If a green alien from the planet, Mift, was to receive your email and all he knew was basic conversational English, would he understand you?  Do consider that some people you may email are not from the same country, culture, time zone or even hold the same world view you do.  When inviting someone to  an online event, do include the time zone or a few time zones to make it easier for everyone to attend. For example: "Join us each month for free seminars here: http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/19736" doesn't tell them when they should join you. "Join us each Monday at noon" isn't much more helpful because noon to California is not noon to NY. "Join us each Monday 12pm PST/3pm EST" is much more descriptive.  From there anyone can figure out their own time zone.  You can even post four US time zones so those in MST and CST will not have to go to the trouble of doing calculation. Do remember, too, that there are people who live in other countries and time zones that may see your email post.  Their noon may be your midnight.  Allow them to be fully informed of the time zone or they are likely to become frustrated by trying to attend your online event while you are sleeping. On Wednesday, I'll share five more tips for the body of your email.


  • jojosblog

    Email is often mistakenly thought to be too informal to require training or much attention. However, today’s society uses it so extensively that it has become one of the primary ways in which we communicate!

  • Cindy Holman

    Great tips. Emails get people into trouble ALL THE TIME – even me :) I have to read things over many times and get my husband to read them over too :)

  • jojosblog

    I think everyone knows all too well how difficult email can be, but many don’t understand what to do to avoid email problems. That’s why I wrote the posts.

  • Carla

    Very valid points, especially about the “accusatory” tone. Some folks hear or see accusations when there are none actually there. The reading aloud helps here. If the email isn’t personal, I would have someone else in the household read it, too. Folks love email, but I find it a difficult communication medium because of all the points you mentioned here. Ask me how I know. . .

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