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Once you’ve concluded that email is the most appropriate and optimal forum for your message—compared to phone, snail mail, face-to-face communication, or text messaging—there are other considerations that need to be addressed as you prepare to type and fire off your message.

We’ve all been using email long enough to share embarrassing horror stories of when we sent a message we probably shouldn’t have, because either the content or tone was not quite right and whether we hit “send” too soon accidentally or with decisive purpose which we later regretted. The short amount of additional time it takes to be certain you have prepared yourself mentally, thought through your ideas, and composed them with the proper spirit will be well worth it when your communications turn out to be more clear, controlled, and consistent with your proposed intent.

Here are some considerations that will help you master the mindset of delivering more effective emails:

Set up a system.

All email isn’t the same. Posts from peers are different in content and tone from posts from supervisors, those from team members are different from those from relative strangers, and those from IT are different from those from the marketing department. It stands to reason that the way you read and respond to these messages will also be different.

Setting up a system to sort out similar types of messages and levels of priority will help you work through them more efficiently and be in the right frame of mind to respond to them. In this way, those that require a cursory, quick response can be handled at one time and those which require greater thought and attention can be addressed later. The particular system isn’t as important as the fact that you have a method to process your email.

Examine your emotions.

Now that you have a system in place, you can start working through your inbox. It’s important to remember at the onset that you may well be bombarded by personal and private issues from a range of benevolent to belligerent messengers. Keeping a steady and calm emotional balance will be a great help here.

If you feel the need to send a message that contains sensitive, negative, or critical comments, take some extra time to think it through first. Once you hit the Send button, you’re committed and they’re all but etched in cyber stone. As a safety valve, leave an emotionally charged message in your outbox or drafts folder for a least an hour or longer. During that time, ask yourself: Would I say this face-to-face? Remember, there really is a live person on the receiving end of your communication.

Harness your humor and sarcasm.

Humor is extremely difficult to convey in writing because you don’t have the body language “softeners” (a twinkle in the eye, a smile, a shrug of the shoulders) that provide interpretation clues in face-to-face conversations. Either be sure your humor works, use the typical sideways smiley face as a cue, or don’t skip the wit.

Sarcasm is no more acceptable or wise in email than in face-to-face communication. Sending off a scathing attack with some disclaimer about how “the humor-impaired should skip this message” does not rule out offense and mitigate the criticism. In short, don’t write anything in email you wouldn’t want forwarded to your coworkers or customers.

Think then type.

It often only takes a few moments, but it’s always a wise step to first think through the content and order of your message before you start creating it. And the more detailed and lengthy the remarks, the more time and thought will be required. It’s like taking a look at the roadmap before a long trip or checking out your To Do list before you start your day.

The alternative method is what most people adopt as they start headlong into their thought, rambling on and on from here to there, often straying off into unintended tangents. And since there was little clarity and direction in the authoring of the message, the way it is received by the recipient will likely result in the same effect: clutter and confusion.

Setting up a system to work through your emails, examining your emotions before you start, harnessing your humor, and thinking through your thoughts before diving in without a plan will not only give you more clear and concise content, but it will also ensure that the tone and mood of your message will be more positive, appropriate, and effective.

In the next blog, we’ll look at some important steps in composing and executing effective emails.


E-Writing: 21st-Century Tools for Effective Communication by Dianna Booher

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