When people are sitting in a room together, it is possible to communicate with the help of non-verbal signals like eye contact, facial expressions and body language. However, when conversations take place by telephone or video-conference, there is a greater danger that attitudes and meanings may be misunderstood. It is necessary to make extra efforts to build trust and empathy, for example by making positive comments, and showing you are listening by repeating back other people’s words before having your own say.
An even bigger challenge presents itself when people communicate by email. Because the written word cannot carry emotion, it is essential to be sure that the message conveys the mood and attitude intended. So this post provides some tips for creating constructive conversations by email.
Below are some simple guidelines for maintaining constructive conversations in emails:
1. Avoid negative words in the subject line:
2. Avoid negative messages:
3. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes:
People feel safer when they know when, where and why something is happening, particularly when it concerns change:
4. Avoid blame and criticism:
5. Avoid ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’
Uncertain or negative words and phrases reduce the impact of an email. This is particularly important where the writer is selling to a client:
6. ‘Top and tail’ the email in a positive way:
Start with a positive statement and finish with one that brings the message to a comfortable and positive close:
7. Watch your grammar
Simple grammatical mistakes, like where you place the commas, can change the meaning of a sentence. For example, look at these two statements:
- ‘Yesterday I went to work with my co-workers, John and Jill.’
- ‘Yesterday I went to work with my co-workers, John, and Jill.’
The first tells us that the writer’s co-workers are named John and Jill; the second that the writer went to work with their co-workers as well as John and Jill.
This is known as the ‘Oxford comma’ and a company in Maine were successfully sued for thousands of dollars by their workers after the vital comma was left out of a legal notice listing exemptions from paid overtime:
‘The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: [specified goods]’
The notice should have read:
‘The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment, or distribution of: [specified goods]’
The court ruled that it was not clear whether the law exempted the distribution of the goods, or merely packing them.
8. Keep it succinct
Most people in today’s workplace receive more emails than they can cope with. If your email is too long or strays off subject, it may get flagged and forgotten or not read to the end.
9. Re-read emails before you send them:
Look not only for spelling mistakes or other inaccuracies, but imagine yourself as the recipient. How does the emotional content of the email come across? Could it be misinterpreted as critical or hostile? Are you giving all the information required? Is it too long? Is it addressed to the right person, and who else is copied in?
With the propensity nowadays for speaking to people by email, rather than picking up the phone or arranging a Zoom meeting, relationships can be built and maintained, or wither and fail, through the written word; staff can be motivated or left feeling stressed or undervalued; and misunderstandings that are damaging to alliances and finances can happen.
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I thought this article defining corporate culture was interesting and accurate; “5 Types of Corporate Culture: Which One Is Your Company?” https://blog.enplug.com/corporate-culture.
Category One, “Team-first Corporate Culture” definitely describes the culture I experienced as a director at Virgin, described in my article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sir-richard-bransons-coaching-culture-virgin-carol-wilson.