The Golden Rules of Email

emailWhat would we do without email? Email allows us all to connect, coordinate, share, and document in an instant. It also opens a world of opportunity for misunderstanding and confusion. While email often helps us work more efficiently, it can also derail progress when the tone of an email is unclear. The recipient spends hours poring over every word trying to analyze the intent; meanwhile, the sender had no hidden agenda or intentional subtle wording.

Every word we type in an email matters. Each word will be read, analyzed, discussed, and saved for future reference. Anyone can send an email. Writing an email strategically takes effort. To save both the recipient and sender from wasted time, damaged relationships, and confusion, follow these Golden Rules of Email.

Don’t email a phone call. Over-reliance on email can result in a disconnected workforce that is drained by technology. Teams can’t build strong relationships or trust in one another via email. Face-to-face and voice connections extend and deepen long-lasting relationships. Over time, those personal relationships also help provide clarity on the tone of future emails. While emails are quick, efficient, and a painless way to express immediate needs, they should never replace the work it takes to connect in a meaningful way.

Make it personal. It’s so easy to launch straight into the issue at hand or a specific request, but you likely wouldn’t take the same approach in person. If you wouldn’t walk straight up to your coworker and demand an action without saying hello first, then don’t do it via email either. One single greeting line can set the tone for the whole email. And don’t forget to close the email with a simple thank you!

Write what you mean, nothing more. In 2015, over 205 Billion emails were sent and received per day. The sheer volume of emails bombarding us is a problem alone, but unnecessarily long-winded emails compound the issue. Aside from being respectful to the recipient, brevity is also strategic. Every email you write is like a digital time capsule waiting to be re-opened and potentially used against you later. Choosing your words wisely ensures you give only the most necessary information and nothing more.

Let a heated draft simmer. Email lends itself to reactive responses. Without having to engage in a live back-and-forth conversation, we become much braver while sitting behind a computer drafting a response. We often use strong words and take unnecessary jabs via email that we wouldn’t have the courage to do in person. When you feel your heart rate rising as you type, that’s a signal to let that email sit in the drafts folder a bit longer. Come back a few hours or even a day later to see if you still feel like your response is necessary/appropriate. The typed word can be saved forever.

Negate the negative. After you’ve completed your email, take time to re-read the content. Aside from proofreading, this is the time to make one last adjustment to your tone. As often as possible, turn negative statements into positive ones. Instead of saying “I don’t have time to address this right now” you could say “I’d like to revisit this next week.” Words like never, can’t, mistake, unfortunately, and difficult incite emotion from the reader even when a negative response isn’t intentional.

Every word matters. Choose wisely.

To learn more about writing effectively for business purposes, check out our Enhanced Business Writing Skills Program.