I know you believe you know how to write a nice email, but allow me to explain the proper method to compose an email. How did you react to the sentence? I was talking to you like you were a three-year-old, right? That’s how quickly an email can insult someone.
If you want to come across positively – as a team member, a capable leader, or a reliable friend – the words you pick and how you thread them together have a huge influence. This is especially important in email since, unlike phone or video chat, you cannot see the person’s face. You can’t see their smile as they deliver sarcasm, or the crinkle on their brow as they process what you’ve just said. Some believe that technologies such as email and social networks are harming society.
With email, you’re essentially flying blind. For some individuals, this works well because they are the kind of people that like to speak at others rather than to them. If you’ve ever worked in an atmosphere where email is a common mode of communication, you’re well aware of the several “email personalities” that emerge. There’s the patronizer, the hate-bating troll, the perennially off-topic, Mr. (or Mrs.) negative, and so on.
So, how can you know if you’re coming across incorrectly without recognizing it? What guidelines can you follow to ensure that you constantly come across as a nice, open-minded, cooperative person that others love working with? The following suggestions should get you started on the path to nicer and more effective email exchanges.
The Line Between Confidence and Arrogance
Many times, persons who come off as arrogant in an email are unaware of how they seem. They are often attempting to impress someone or acquire the admiration of their coworkers or friends. This is the most common email blunder individuals make, particularly at work. So many people are striving to impress the boss that it often becomes a game of one-upmanship among coworkers. Everyone wants that promotion, and frequently, a manager’s only perspective of performance is what is conveyed in emails. That is, at least, my mental process.
The issue arises when the word “I” appears often. “I want us to get started right now,” or “I want to be clear here…”
The phrases aren’t just selfish. They also devolve into a totalitarian discussion. It’s almost like a parent-child relationship, where one person believes they have all the answers and you’re expected to simply shut up and listen.
Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of it, and you certainly don’t want to be on the providing end. Nobody is going to like you.
According to Carmine Gallo, a skills coach consultant and author, arrogant individuals avoid eye contact. They seem to speak through you rather than at you. It’s because they don’t care who they’re talking to as long as their message is heard. This is also reflected in email, with the frequent use of “I” and little regard for what others say, save from the odd perfunctory statement about “appreciating” your viewpoint. You can bet that the boss will not read what you write and will instead be preoccupied with deciding what to say next.
No One Needs You To “Step In”, Big Guy.
Another sign that you have a self-inflated ego is when you’re in the midst of an email exchange with a CC list of many individuals, and then someone enters the chat out of nowhere with the statement, “Allow me to jump in here for a second…”
Here’s what phrase like “Let me explain…” does to the individuals reading your email. It indicates to them that you believe you have all the solutions. It informs them that you believe they’ve been mistaken and erroneous up to this point, and now you’re riding in on a white horse to rescue everyone from their own folly and ignorance.
Excellent work, Mr. Hero – With the first lines of your email, you’ve already alienated everyone on the team.
Here are some of the most effective methods for professional yet courteous communication.
Be Honest and Humble
A great leader not only admits that he or she does not have all of the solutions, but also often and firmly asserts that it is the workers who have the most insights and talents. When contacting your supervisors about them and speaking favorably of them, the easiest method to do this is to CC your employee. Speak well of your staff while speaking with other members of the team. Recognize when they’ve had a big success.
It may seem counter-intuitive for persons in positions of authority to not promote themselves. After all, the position of power lends itself to self-promotion. Most managers believe that in order to get the respect of their staff, they must look intellectually superior. Unfortunately, this usually has the opposite effect.
It may seem strange as a manager to ask your staff for answers rather than providing them with answers, but believe it or not, empowering individuals to generate solutions for you increases their respect for you. When they complete the job of solving an issue, they will not only feel more confidence in themselves, but they will also remember that you were the one who motivated them to step up and achieve achievement. That is the key of management: concentrating on the success of those under you rather than your own.
Consider this: you are in a rare position to assemble a team of confident, successful individuals to work for you. Consider how much more a team like that could achieve than a team full with dissatisfied and uninspired individuals.
But…Don’t Use “But”
Another amusing strategy I’ve seen in manager emails throughout my travels is the bait-and-switch technique. This is when the boss begins the email with a praise and then switches to complain about something or ask for more work. This is especially dangerous because it provides the false appearance that you’re going to be honest and modest (as advised above), and you build up the employee’s expectations that they’re about to get a complement, just to crush them by doing the exact opposite.
“You guys are doing fantastic, but…” or “I appreciate what you accomplished with that diagram, but…” are examples of these statements.
This is the offspring of the age-old advise given to managers to always begin an email asking for something or criticizing something with something pleasant to “soften the blow.” Don’t get me wrong: when done correctly, this works. The issue is that most individuals don’t know how to do this legitimately, and instead come off as a condescending, pretentious jerk.
Unless you really believe someone is doing a fantastic job, skip the false platitudes and get down to work. Your employee will enjoy being treated like an adult as opposed to a five-year-old.
Show People You Care What They Say
If you want your colleagues or coworkers to admire you and see you as a true person, you must be honest and open with them. Being cheerful is wonderful, but being optimistic for the sake of being positive comes out as hollow and condescending when communicated over email. If you must employ the “say something nice first” strategy while delivering terrible news, do it in a sincere manner. Don’t simply say “you’re a fantastic employee,” but rather cite something they’ve done that demonstrates that. This shows them that you are paying attention and are concerned about what they do and say.
Managing people is one of the most difficult tasks there is, since it is human nature to fear and despise authority. When you are in a position of leadership, it is even more important to remain modest, sincere, and honest.
It isn’t enough to say you care about people. Show it.
It’s not enough to express your gratitude to someone. Explain why.
People will make all kinds of assumptions about what you say in email, so don’t allow any space for misunderstanding. Not only will your workers appreciate your candor and honesty, but so will your colleagues. If you pull this off properly, you may find yourself obtaining a “distinguished leader” award someday.
How do you strive to communicate effectively using email? What precautions do you take to avoid offending or patronizing people? Please provide your own advice in the comments area below!
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