From unintended tone to typos that change the message, misunderstandings are pretty easy in email. Fortunately, there are things you can do avoid trouble, says Claire Bissot, managing director of human resource services for the professional services provider CBIZ.
“Your email can impact someone’s perception of you very quickly,” she says. “It’s easy to come off as being too short, too nice, too distant, or too wordy. Instead, it’s important to take the time to properly word and tweak your message; it’s a conversation that is now documented.”
To avoid misunderstandings, make sure you’re not making one of these four common mistakes:
Diving into what you want right away
While brevity is preferable, don’t forget common courtesy. Just as you wouldn’t start a phone call by immediately stating what you want after the other person says “hello,” starting an email the same way can sound equally abrupt. Take a moment to greet the other person in a way that shows you gave your message thought.
“If you haven’t talked to the other person in a while, you might say, ‘Hey, John, Long time no talk,'” says Bissot. “Instead of a canned opening, use a unique introduction, such as ‘Hope your Monday is starting off well,’ or ‘Happy Wednesday.'”
A greeting helps get the person’s attention and provides context about why you’re reaching out. If your email conversation continues beyond the first message, though, you don’t need to be as formal, Bissot adds.
Email is a fast way to communicate, but fast can turn into sloppy. Always take the time to read over your message before you hit send, says Bissot. Check for basic typos or grammatical mistakes like mixing up “their” and “there.” Read your email out loud to make sure your tone won’t be misinterpreted as negative. And check that you’re not adding confusion to an issue.
“We often judge a person by their email,” she says. “Poorly written messages can cause a negative perception of the person, their skills and whether you want to interact with them in the future.”
Using an automated signature
It’s easy to overlook sections that aren’t part of the body of your message, such as your signature. But it could send a message that you don’t care.
“Ending every email with ‘Have a great day,’ actually comes off as cold when a conversation goes back and forth,” says Bissot. “The receiver knows you didn’t put any effort into typing it, and it send a message that you’re not emotionally engaged.”
Instead, make sure nothing in the email is repetitive, and update signatures to reflect the tone and message. “It shows a personal touch, and that should be unique to the email,” she says.
Using Email When You Should Use the Phone
Sometimes email isn’t the correct method of communication. If it’s a new relationship, sticky issue, or something that could lead to more questions, call to solve it once and save everyone’s time, says Bissot.
“You know it’s time to pick up the phone if you’re scared to hit ‘send,’ ” she says. “Or if you’ve gone back and forth more than two times because the other person just doesn’t get it, it’s time for a conversation.”
While it seems quicker, email can slow down communication because phone calls are often much shorter. “Both people walk away feeling satisfied that issues are resolved,” says Bissot. “Phone calls also give you an ability to show compassion when necessary. Email allows us to hide behind a screen, and it’s an open loop that never really ends.”
If the phone is not possible and you have to email a sensitive message, try not to be extreme. Avoid using too much emotion (and exclamation points), but don’t be so cold to show no emotion.
“Be clear about why you or the other person is reaching out, and take time to try and get it right the first time,” says Bissot.