The written language is incredibility different from face-to-face communication. It is not better or worse, merely unique.
Yet so many people forget about these crucial differences!
In a world where we may possibly have more e-mail communication than verbal communication, we all need to get our skills polished!
Step One: Know Your Audience!
I recently sent a rather formal email invitation to a group of 14 professional job candidates. It included the “Dear (NAME),” maintained professional sentence structure and punctuation, and contained specific instructions on the next steps. Out of the 14 professional, educated people, I received 2 responses that fit the professional tone. This ratio is about accurate. With hundreds of job seekers communicating with A Sales Guy Recruiting every day, approximately 10-15% get it right.
This is because they forget their audience. The assumption that they will be evaluated on a resume and cover letter alone is preposterous. Whether it is online, written, verbal, or face-to-face communication, you and your character are being assessed at every moment. This is part of human social interactions. This goes for every industry and every audience.
The easiest way to know the appropriate communication style is to respond in the same manner as you were written to. This does not mean change who you are or your message. It does mean, if you are addressed as Mr. Smith, then you should consider responding with “Ms. Jones.” After you respectfully respond in the same formal manner, you can inform Ms. Jones that she may call you John.
It’s much easier to start from a place of respect than it is to possibly start from a place of disrespect.
EQ Test: Which statement is most appropriate to respond to a formal interview request?
- Hey! Great…I’m free in an hour. Call me.
- I’m excited to talk to you further about this opportunity. Before we schedule anything, can you tell me what it pays?
- Yeah, let’s talk! I’d love to work for you. Can you remind me what job this is for?
- Cool….call me sometime.
If you are thinking none of these are appropriate, you are correct. And if you are thinking these responses are exaggerated, you are incorrect….
Step Two: Choose Your Words Wisely
In verbal communication, you have tone of voice to indicate humor, seriousness, sarcasm, factual candor, etc… In face-to-face communication, you get to add body language, facial expressions, and gestures. Even in handwritten communication, you get a sense of the handwriting to indicate if someone was in a hurry.
But in e-mail or typed communication, your words are really it, with few exceptions (thank you emoji’s!). Humor is easily mistaken as hatefulness. Short factual statements can be perceived as aloof or disinterested or even blowing someone off. Politeness can come off as flirtation. Without the extra information of intonation and body language, you must think about the other person’s perception.
Perception Test: How would you interpret this communication?
“Hello Jason. Susan Here. Wishing to inquire on your current or future or possible jobs in admin. Hard Worker. Many years experience. Enthusiasm. Heart. Passion. Drive. Always give 110%. Wishing you and your team well with positivity.”
The sassy person inside of me instantly thinks, “where was your 110% when you wrote this email?” And I won’t lie; I sometimes really wish I could respond with just that. But were your thoughts that different? It is filled with buzzwords and positivity and all sorts of great things, but YOU DON’T BELIEVE ANY OF IT!
Because she forgot to be a human with personality in her communication. She sounds like a robot.
Choosing your words means understanding what could be offensive or taken incorrectly as well as still being real. It is not always an easy balance between writing in a conversational style and maintaining a degree of verbal sophistication.
Luckily programs like Grammarly are saving many of us from our grammatical disasters. For the style part, I tend to think, when in doubt go with the conversational style. Lacking verbal sophistication is much better than robot.
Step Three: Give Complete Information
E-mail communication extends a short conversation over a long period of time due to the back and forth nature. So when someone sends an email that is missing vital information, it can take hours of unnecessary and frustrating back and forth to finalize anything.
Detail Fail: “I’m free at noon. Thanks”
I get many emails of this type, which immediately get followed up with the same questions of, “What day?” “What time zone are you in?” “What is your preferred contact number?” “How long are you available for the noon time?” etc…
Not only is this statement ambiguous, but it doesn’t make the reader feel too great. It feels short, abrupt, disinterested, rushed, and unimportant.
The phrase “think before you speak” still applies to e-mail!
Step Four: Email Length Matters
The length of an email is a bit of an extension of the level of detail. Too much detail is equally bad to too little detail. If you find yourself writing an email the size of a blog post, it is time to pick up a phone or schedule a web conference or meet in person. It is the difference between sending a note and having a conversation.
Long emails are really just a one-sided conversation. They are not efficient and can be perceived as self-absorbed.
No one likes a one-sided conversation in any capacity.
Step Five: Reply vs. Reply-All
So many people mess this up! Have you ever received an email from your HR team or manager that goes out to the many with a simple reminder stating, “Don’t forget time sheets are due early for the holidays” and then hundreds of people reply-all with things like, “turned mine in!” or “done!” or “will do!”
If you think you are getting bonus points for noting how on top of things you are with your time entry, think again! Your colleagues will most likely think either you lack a fundamental understanding of the purpose of email or you are boastful….or mostly likely, both.
One simple wrong click of a button takes an efficient reminder to an inefficient inbox mess where your important and valid emails become buried in the nonsense.
On the flip side, have you ever been apart of a group email thread that was created because everyone on it needs to be informed? Then that one person can’t seem to get the reply-all down? Again, one button takes an efficient communication into an inefficient mess.
Sometimes you need to slow down and pay attention to the task at hand. A second of thought to reply or to reply-all can make your communication much more efficient.
Step Six: If You Wouldn’t Say It In Person, Don’t Write It
We have all heard about the bravery people find when hidden behind a computer screen or device. And while you may not have to face the consequences of your words immediately like you would in person, those consequences are real. They will be faced eventually. They may also end up having more severe consequences because they were stated in a very concrete, provable manner. No more “he said she said” dispute about it; you put it in a solid record.
The solid record is hard to take back. It can be revisited and shared. Like a stone in the water, it can ripple for quite a distance.
And while the feeling is bravery, the reality is cowardice. If you have hard news to break, suck it up and set that meeting. If you can’t handle the difficulty of the face-to-face tough news, you shouldn’t be the person responsible for the news.
So no matter what, if you would not say it in person, then it also doesn’t belong in writing.
Got more Emails tips? Comment below!