I was recently compiling information for a time management webinar. Obviously managing your email by keeping an organized and clean inbox is a key to effective time management, but the manner in which you compose and format your emails is also critical to maximizing your efficiency.
If you send an email and it is interpreted in a different manner than you intended, you are wasting your time and the recipient’s by later having to clarify the real intent of the email. Sometimes you can quickly correct what you meant to say in another email, but sometimes there isn’t an easy fix. If someone’s feelings are hurt, a lot more damage control may be needed to correct the misunderstanding.
What if your emails are crystal clear in content, but they come across as negative? This is even harder to correct. As an example, I receive a variety of emails from a fellow board member. This gentleman’s emails are very clear in content, but as soon as I see his name in my inbox, I cringe. The subject line is often specific and detailed. This is actually good practice, making it easier for people to search for a specific email at a later date. However, in this particular situation, he put “QUESTION” or “ANSWER” followed by the specifics in the subject line. This gets under my skin for two reasons: First, anything capitalized throughout usually indicates someone speaking in a loud tone or yelling. I don’t believe this was his intention. I believe he simply wanted to be clear upfront, and I don’t think he realized that this can be perceived as offensive. Second, the point in making a specific subject line is to make it easier for the reader to determine the importance of the subject. In this case, since “Question” and “Answer” are capitalized, those two words take up the majority of the space available in the subject line. As a result, the complete topic cannot be viewed at a glance. Recipients have to open the email to see the complete subject line. So again, although his intent was to make the subject of the email more clear, it actually made it more difficult for the reader.
I will say, though, the body of this gentleman’s email, although lengthy, was clear. He used bullets and boldface text throughout the body, which made for a nice way to read the message easily. There are still instances where words were capitalized and that still comes across as negative to me. This man also has a very deep and curt voice, and I can actually hear his voice in my mind as I read his emails. I can also picture the finger-pointing when he has a question!
Here’s the lesson. People will rarely tell you if they are annoyed or offended by your emails. You must rely on your own personal gut check. The best thing you can do is put yourself in the shoes of your reader. Consider how your tone and content might be misinterpreted. So often we are in a rush to get an email out, we don’t take the time to think it through. For the next week, spend a few extra seconds and consider how readers might interpret your emails. I promise this will eliminate miscommunications and save you more time later.