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.

Being Body Language Conscious

Virtually nothing can be heard as loud and clear as body language. Even if you keep your lips sealed, unconsciously you are sending hundreds of messages by the way you present yourself, the way you hold your arms, your posture — the list goes on and on. During a job interview or at a networking event, you may have rehearsed your elevator speech and practiced your answers to those grueling questions, but if you are “saying” the wrong things with your body language, you can do significant damage to your professional image. By reading and putting these suggestions into practice, you can be sure you make, rather than break, a deal.

Confident WomanMy number 1 rule to starting out a good conversation or introduction is with a strong handshake. None of this wet noodle stuff. Your handshake should be firm but not inflict pain to the recipient.  Make sure it is long enough so they know you aren’t running for the door but short enough that a nervous sweat doesn’t develop. (Gross.)

When you are standing, keep your head held high, shoulders back, and back straight. This presents the image of confidence and ease in social situations. Slouching will give off the message of low self-confidence or laziness. The latter two attributes do not work well when looking for a job or instilling a positive first impression.

Same advice goes for when you are sitting. Most likely, you will be sitting during a job interview or client meeting, so focus on nailing these points first. When addressing your interviewer or other person in conversation, keep your shoulders square on the person. You want them to know they have your full attention and you are not intimidated by their questions or approach. Men, keep your legs crossed or in front of you. Women, avoid crossing your legs. Instead keep your knees together and put one ankle behind the other for support.

Nodding in acknowledgement is also encouraged but refrain from becoming a life-sized bobble-head doll. The goal is to project understanding and agreement, not to attempt self-inflicted whiplash. Also, try your best to not to touch your face, play with your hair, focus on your hands, or pick at your fingernails (clean them ahead of time) during the conversation either.

Remember to smile! A pleasant expression on your face will send off messages that you are interested and welcoming of the conversation and discussion. It will relax the person you are talking with as well. But be sure it is a natural smile. Plastering a fake smile on your face can read as if you are just trying to be as tolerant as possible.

Hands are also a straight signal to how a person is feeling at the time. Fidgeting can send signals of uneasiness or aggression. If you are one who talks with your hands, be subtle and only use at appropriate times. When in doubt, put your hands by your sides while standing and folded in your lap while sitting.

As the old saying goes, your eyes are a window to your soul. Maintaining eye contact seems to be the hardest thing for Eye Contactpeople to do during an interview. Some feel uncomfortable just from the thought of it. It is important to keep eye contact with the other person who is speaking. This is a surefire way to show you are confident, attentive, and genuinely interested in what they are saying. All are great qualities you look for in an employee or potential business contact.

If you put these tips into your daily routine, they will become second nature. Practice them with your friends and family to get the hang of it, and once you are ready to put them to the test, try them out in the real world… then come here and tell me how they worked for you!

Forbes posted a great video with Christine Jahnke, author of The Well-Spoken Woman, discussing how to make a lasting impression through body language.

And a quote to round out this week’s post, one which I love to think about when entering a room of strangers or going into a job interview, is one by Henry Ford that says: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right.”

Readers, what do you do to boost your confidence and portray the professional individual you are through body language? What have you noticed in what others do that have had a positive or negative effect on how you view them?

As always if you have a question for me, visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Best Wishes,
Anita

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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