On the whole, written communication lacks the verbal cues we enjoy when speaking to someone in person. In the age of electronic communication, most businesses now depend on email messages for important customer, partner and employee "interactions."
Yet email communication is impersonal and often brief, which can lead to misunderstanding. When we talk to someone, we gather most of the key points of a message through voice, tone and body language. How do you make up for those missing pieces in email messages, or even more importantly, avoid misunderstandings that can occur because these intangible, but important factors are missing from email interaction?
Try these proven tips for improving email tone and accuracy:
1. Avoid waiting until the last minute to compose email messages. This gives you time to craft your message carefully and review it and avoids the stream-of-consciousness tendency of quick email composition.
2. When reading over your message, check for more than typos and grammar; look for vague wording and double meaning. It's so tempting to remain vague and avoid potential conflict, especially with important people. But keep your words as concise and clear as possible.
3. Make your main point clear in the subject line. This establishes your meaning from the get-go if used wisely. Want a response from every recipient? Say so with "Meeting on New Vacation Approval Procedure: Please Respond by Jan. 23."
4. Be polite. Whether you are writing to subordinates or your board of directors, manners and respect set the tone that lacks in verbal intonation and body language. Be sure to include appropriate phrases such as "thank you," "appreciate," "please," and "kindly." And if you're writing to a customer, especially a disgruntled one, it's particularly important to be polite and respectful.
5. Avoid text and tweet abbreviations. Even in informal emails, it's best to avoid slang and shortcuts (such as BTW or as I'll be back in my office @ 5 that day.")