10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications: Tablet 2

Dear, Readers,

Last week, Wrong Wavelength wrote in about a misunderstood email she sent to her supervisor. Follow my 10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications to keep you out of hot water. Review Commandments 1-5 here.

Even the most clearly worded directives can sometimes be misunderstood. A cake decorator took her instructions too literally. Source: www.masalatime.com

Even the most clearly worded directives can sometimes be misunderstood. A cake decorator took her instructions too literally. Source: www.masalatime.com

6. Avoid ambiguity. For example, you write, “We’re losing sales on our XYZ product. I wonder what our competitors are charging.” Does that mean you want the recipient to research the competitors’ prices? Make sure you are not asking rhetorical questions in email (“Why don’t you… ?”). If you are taking excessive care not to offend, the recipient may not even notice the constructive criticisms couched in our communiqués. A phrase like “There’s a problem with …” or a polite instruction like “Could you please correct… ?” is more to the point. If you’re giving bad news, use simple, sympathetic language, like “I’m afraid…”

7. Ditch the demands. On the opposite end of the beating around the bush is coming across as hard-nosed. Instead of “I want you to explain ABC,” it’s better to say, “We need to discuss ABC.” Common courtesy goes a long way.  Even an innocuous reply of “Fine” is subject to interpretation. Revisit drama class and read that one word with the following emotions: angry, happy, satisfied, bored, and exasperated. To be safe, add a few extra words (“That sounds fine to me”) or rephrase.

8. Add a little emotion.  Even at work, show a little feeling with your words, from excitement to sympathy. While trying to motivate, though, don’t overdo the exclamation points. One per paragraph is my rule of thumb. It’s my opinion that adding emoticons to internal (non-client) emails is acceptable – in moderation. But don’t think that adding a wink makes it okay to forward that off-color joke.

9. Use your CC wisely. While it’s important for anyone with “need to know” status to be included in the information loop, use the CC wisely so as not to inundate your co-workers with unnecessary emails. If you are reprimanding someone in a CCed email, the whole department (usually) does not have to know about it. Likewise, if you are the person to respond to an email with a lot of people CCed, consider whether or not they need to be included on the response. Don’t just hit “Reply” when “Reply to All” is more appropriate. It’s frustrating for the originator of the email to have to keep adding the CCed recipients back in every time the conversation shifts back and forth.

10. Reply thoroughly. My personal pet peeve is sending an email with multiple questions and getting a response to only one. When writing the original email, if you number your questions, you’ll have a better chance of getting all of them answered.

Before you hit “send,” take a moment to review your email. Read it aloud in your head in the opposite tone you intend (say, sarcastic or angry for most business email). You may be surprised at how your innocent email could be taken the wrong way by a colleague. If you just can’t get the tone right, pick up the phone for a 38% better chance of being understood.

Readers: Have you ever had one of your emails misunderstood? Feel free to post your example in the comments!

Need some job advice? Anita Clew is happy to help. Click here to Ask Anita.

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10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications: Tablet 1

Dear, Anita,

I work remotely and sent this email to my boss. He got very upset and I don’t know why.

Hi [Boss], I haven’t been successful reaching you by phone, so I’ll try email instead. Could you please forward me the newest statistics for the [project] that I requested last week?

I almost lost my job because he said I was being insubordinate. What do you think, Anita? Did I do anything wrong?

Dear, Wrong Wavelength,

I recently had a text message misunderstanding with a family member, so your question really hits home. It sounds like you accidentally offended your boss when you insinuated (in his mind) that he does not return phone calls and unprofessionally ignores requests.

Albert Mehrabian, a 1960s researcher, found that communication is 7 percent verbal (words), 38 percent tone of voice, and 55 percent body language. Since a whopping 93% of nonverbal cues are missing in electronic communications, it’s no wonder there are so many crossed wires!

To avoid misunderstandings – or worse, offense – keep my Ten Commandments of Email Communication in mind. We’ll start with five this week, and bring the second electronic stone tablet next week.

1. Keep it short. Nobody has time for long rambling emails, and you may lose your audience before you get to the point. Summarize briefly, while still relaying relevant information. Use attachments to supplement your email outline.

Lets_Eat_Grandma_Save_Lives_Meme2. Check spelling, grammar, and punctuation. A simple mistake could change your message dramatically – especially for poor grandma.

3. Be clear and avoid double negatives. Look at this muddle with a quadruple negative: “Unless you fail to inform us in advance of your inability to attend the training event, you will not be billed for those presentations which you cannot avoid missing.” Will I or won’t I be charged for the event if I don’t cancel?

4. Be specific. If you add a comment or opinion about a statement in an email, make sure it’s clear which point you are remarking on. Sometimes, it is helpful to respond under each statement or question, and change the text color of your responses.

5. Be careful with humor. Your tongue-in-cheek sarcasm may just come across as just plain mean when not accompanied by your charming smirk. Electronic joking is best employed with co-workers you know quite well.

Stay tuned for email commandments 6 through 10 next week!

Readers: Here’s a fun challenge for you! Rewrite the email excerpt in Wrong Wavelength’s question to improve the tone and avoid misunderstandings. Post your best rephrasing by leaving a reply in the comments.

Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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