Effective communication is a skill required for success in just about any endeavor. One of the main ways that we communicate in today’s business world is through email. Despite this, how to effectively communicate through email is not something that is formally taught. If you’re not crafting emails intentionally you could be causing extra work and undue stress for yourself and/or the recipient, and setting yourself up for poor working relationships. To master the art of email communication and create a healthy email communication situation you should adopt the extreme accountability mindset.
The extreme accountability mindset in email management means that you understand that you are responsible for the reactions, both good and bad, to emails that you send. The extreme accountability mindset also means going beyond yourself and recognizing that how you craft an email can positively (or negatively) influence the way someone else writes an email. This is particularly important if you are in any type of leadership position.
Of course, sometimes you’re delivering bad news and you might think the recipient’s reaction is out of your control. In this case, it’s actually more important that you craft the email with care. You might even determine that an email is not the best way to deliver bad news and opt for an in-person meeting or phone call instead.
Here are some unfavorable email behaviours to avoid.
- Talking about other people. I learned this the hard way early on in my career when I said something negative about another employee that accidentally went onto a string of emails that she saw. This happened to me a few years later, and I can tell you, it isn’t a good feeling. I use the rule that I wouldn’t send an email with someone else’s name referenced in it if I wouldn’t cc them. That eliminates any possibility of talking behind someone’s back.
- Failing to address recipients with respect. There are several ways to do this, intentionally and unintentionally. An email should always start with addressing a person by their (correctly) spelled name. Oftentimes busy people get into the habit of replying to emails as if they are texts with no greeting and no sign off. If time is an issue and you are so busy you don’t have time to type out “have a nice day,” then use a template that fills it in for you.
- Saying too much or too little. Saying too much can mean that you either don’t have the initiative to pick up the phone when you should or that you expect the other person to use their valuable time reading your novel of an email. When being extremely accountable to the onus you put on someone else, consider the time you’re asking them to give. On the other hand, not saying enough causes the other person to have to look things up, email you back for more details, or worry that there is something they should know but don’t.Don’t forget the subject line. The subject line should let the recipient know what the email is about, how urgent the message is, and make it searchable for later. If an email doesn’t have a subject it is likely to be ignored or cause the recipient just enough extra work to be an annoyance.
- Making excuses. How many times have you started an email with, “I’m sorry?” If you are being extremely accountable, you are admitting when you are at fault. I’ve had the urge many times to tell someone I missed a deadline because of someone or something else. I now stop myself and either thank the person for their patience (if there wasn’t an actual deadline) or just own up to it. I no longer say, “I’m sorry this is late, I was waiting on so and so.”
Crafting thoughtful emails is a good way to stand out, build a good reputation, and set the tone for others you work with. Make your emails positive by expressing gratitude through “please” and “thank you.” Make them respectful by using people’s correct names and an appropriate greeting. “Good morning” and “good afternoon” are better choices for formal emails than “hi” or “hey.”
In being extremely accountable with your emails, keep in mind that it is not only your actual intention that matters but your perceived intention. It is common for a person to say to themselves that how someone else perceives their messages is not their fault.
Finally, here is how you can use The Four Agreements, described in full detail in the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, to help alleviate email stress.
- Agreement #1 – Be impeccable with your word. It’s doubtful that Ruiz was referring to email communication when writing the book but it may be even more important in emails where the words are recorded and there are no visual cues to accompany them.
- Agreement #2 – Don’t take anything personally. If you are the recipient of an email that is guilty of any of the bad behaviors listed above, don’t take it personally. The sender likely doesn’t realize how their message is coming across.
- Agreement #3 – Don’t make assumptions. Don’t assume that if someone sends you a poorly written email that it is anyway a reflection on you. If their emails consistently come across as rude or condescending, they probably write all their emails this way.
- Agreement #4 – Always do your best. A friend of mine described how she was caught in a multi-person email chain where everyone was writing curt, unfriendly, and impersonal messages. Rather than maintaining the example and writing her messages in her usual upbeat way, she lowered her writing down to their level. This did not sit well with her or create a better working environment. You don’t have to tell other people they’re doing it wrong, just lead the way on how you think is the better way and it will pay off in the long run.
Taking the time to intentionally craft an email shows that you care, tells the person that you care about them, and fosters good working relationships. The adage, “you get what you give”, definitely applies here and by using these suggestions you will surely start to get more out of your email relationships.
If you found the concept of applying the extreme accountability mindset to email communication enlightening, please consider joining us for the Extreme Accountability: The Art of Owning your Results and Failures Virtual Workshop on January 11th where we will cover how to use the mindset to make improvements in multiple areas of your work and personal life.
Laura Thorne specializes in strategy and execution through workshops, coaching, and other services. Click here to learn more about Laura’s consulting partnership with MACNY.
Want to to suggest an article topic or make a comment? Contact Laura at [email protected].