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.