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Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

The Best Business Email Might Be a Phone Call 8

This morning I picked up Finding the Right Words for Business Emails, a recent post by Bradford Shimp on his Allbusiness Answers blog. Bradford’s a smart person, and he has good advice here. Use language you’d use for a friend. Be careful with the subject line. Avoid phrases that sound like spam. And this, my favorite:

You can’t control how a reader will interpret your email, but you can work hard to find the right words to communicate your message clearly. Avoid murky language. Instead, go for crisp, clear sentences. If you want to make a point, repeat it a couple of times in the email. One thing to avoid in email is sarcasm. It just doesn’t translate. Satire may be pretty hard to pull off as well.

Even so, Brad’s good advice about email notwithstanding, the post reminds me how I’ve come full circle on email in 25 years. I used to love email, but these days I say dial the phone.

In the beginning of email (I was on Applelink, CompuServe and the Source in the middle 1980s) it was a fabulous productivity booster. My favorite business relationships were the people I could reach in email.

Lately, however, every day I see more of the occasions when email is a weak second-best alternative to dialing the damn phone and talking to somebody. Talk, and more important, listen. Have a conversation. You have the benefit of two-way conversation, tones of voice, inflection, and so forth. Email gets lost, quarantined as spam, misunderstood, and misinterpreted. It’s dangerous. Once you send something in email, that person has control of it, forever. It gets forwarded without context to the wrong people.You can’t get it back. And if it’s misunderstood, you might never get to explain it.

I find email seems like an easy way out sometimes, because I’m too lazy to talk to an actual live human being. When it matters at all, use the phone, talk, and listen.

  • Dan Levine

    Great point by Carol above — once you hit send, there’s no going back so be sure that you mean what you write … and that you’ll have no regrets if it gets forwarded along. The reason I tend to use email more than the phone is b/c email creates a “paper” trail. It’s a tangible record of your interaction and something you can refer back to. But I hear you — sometimes a phone call can get an issue resolved much more quickly and you can certainly get straight to the point with little misunderstanding.

  • Carol

    Yes! All of your points are excellent. Just to add a note on this one, “Once you send something in email, that person has control of it, forever.” Most folks you call are not in the habit of recording calls, so your communications will not be dissected and forwarded so easily. You have some wiggle room there to flub up. It’s forgiving.

  • salil

    The only word that fits the business world when it comes to emails is the word ”SHIP””

    Everthing else follows suit…..

    seems to fit all traditional non-traditional work areas in most cities…

  • We are all in a “belly-to-belly” business. No amount of digital wizardry can ever substitute for the credibility one can claim in a face-to-face meeting. Your website might be a great repository for your testimonials and your portfolio, but you will only be “memorable” if you show up in person.

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  • Tim,

    Couldn’t agree more. I recently wrote about this same issue in our blog (http://ow.ly/1KBKQ). I would even take it a step further and suggest that we have to get back to more face to face interaction. Too much WebEx and GoToMeeting….

  • Important reminder Tim. Plus, email becomes public domain. Anyone, anywhere, anytime can listen in on your email conversations and keep them on record for life. Just check the court records – this isn’t always a good thing and nearly impossible to dispute.

  • I frequently have this same conversation with my coworkers. They e-mail me then walk over if I haven’t responded within whatever they feel is a reasonable amount of time. I ask them why they didn’t call if it was that important. Slowly they are changing their habits.