These days, video conferences and collaboration apps like Slack complement email communication in the workplace. However, this does not diminish the need for effective professional communication.
Sure, most people write emails every single day — it’s a constant, vital part of day-to-day work life. But have you ever actually stopped to think about how you come across in the emails that you send? Have you given any thought to how you can improve the way you communicate?
Communication over email is a skill you can learn and improve over time. Let’s look at some scenarios and how you can adjust your emailing habits to improve how you convey your messages.
A Brief History of Email
You might be surprised to find out that the first-ever email was sent in 1971. Very few might have been able to foresee just how much email would take over — and it truly has taken over since, with over an estimated 300 billion emails sent per day.
We use email for just about everything these days. People send emails to stay in touch with family and friends, although it’s become less common with social media and instant messaging apps. Companies use emails for promotions and keeping in touch with customers, leading to a lot of spam. Let’s not forget the fact that many scams occur over email.
However, one of the most common uses for email is workplace communication. People use it to communicate about projects, speak with other departments in the workplace, collaborate with colleagues, and more.
The Importance of Effective Email Communication in the Workplace
Writing and receiving emails is most likely part of your day-to-day routine as an employee. In fact, emails may comprise much of what you do. There’s truth to people complaining about getting inundated and overwhelmed with emails — and it can only get worse when you’re not communicating effectively.
It’s truly important to develop skills for effective email communication, and here are a few reasons why:
- When the subjects and content of your emails don’t stand out, chances are your emails might go ignored or forgotten.
- Poorly written email communication can make a bad first impression or sour an otherwise great professional relationship.
- Ineffective emails can cause confusion, mistakes, and delays on projects.
- When emails aren’t as effective as they can be, you may end up wasting time having to clarify, which means more emails to read and write.
Writing an email honestly seems easy enough — just type up your subject, write out the content, and click send. However, this is a misconception that can lead to miscommunication. There’s quite a bit more that goes into writing good emails than you might think.
It’s important to get the context and message of your emails right. How you compose your email through words, tone, and structure can change how the recipient comprehends and processes your message.
Email Communications’ Best Practices
A few things may hinder effective email communication in the workplace. One big thing, of course, is the fact that email occurs through text over the internet — which means there’s a significant lack of context. Emails are missing facial expressions and body language. The tone of voice is also missing. All of this leads to a potential miscommunication.
Employees also experience other issues when they communicate via email, such as:
- The awkwardness and difficulty of communicating and connecting with someone they do not know
- Struggle with connecting and cultivating professional relationships
- A lack of trust
- A decrease in the quality of communication
- Discomfort and anxiety
The tips below can help you address these issues.
Set a Goal for the Email Before Composing It
When sending emails for work, it’s important to make sure that every message you compose has a clear purpose. You’re most likely sending emails to someone equally busy as you, so it only makes sense to make sure your messages are short and straight to the point.
It’s a good idea to set a goal for your email before you even begin composing it. To accomplish this, you can look at a few things:
- What you need from the recipient (something you need from them, or something you need them to do)
- What you want the recipient to feel
- How you want the recipient to respond
Here’s an example of an email you’re writing for a deadline extension:
- What you need from the recipient: An extension for a deadline
- What you want the recipient to feel: That the extension is reasonable and a necessity
- How you want the recipient to respond: Granting your extension request
When you have a clear goal, it becomes easier to write effective emails for a few reasons. Goals help you create an outline or at least an idea of the structure you want for your email. Knowing how you want the recipient to respond can influence how you compose your message, affecting your tone.
Organize and Make Notes of Your Thoughts
If you need to discuss many points over one email, it may be beneficial to you to organize your thoughts by making notes and creating an outline. Doing so will allow you to group your points into related clusters, making it easier to compose an email that flows naturally without being confusing.
Additionally, when responding to a question or request, it’s a good idea to structure your email a certain way.
For example, if a colleague, client, or superior asks you an important question, it’s always a good idea to answer their specific question before elaborating your response. Here’s a quick example:
Question “Should we choose option A which costs more, or option B, which saves us money but takes longer to implement?”
Incorrect Response “I think option B is good because it saves us money, but option A doesn’t cost much more, and it’d save more money in the long run because we can save time on implementation. We should go with option A.”
Correct Response“I think we should go with option A. Although option B will save us money upfront, I think option A is more effective in the long run because we save time on implementation.”
This way of responding is more formal, so it won’t necessarily work for every scenario. However, it’s a great way to make sure your point is clear.
Understand Your Intended Audience
In any form of communication, one of the best ways to be effective is to understand who you’re communicating with. Tailoring your messages and responses to them allows you to adjust your tone, the formality of your message, and the wording you use. Here are a few examples:
- If you’re responding to a client’s inquiry, it might be a good idea to avoid using heavy jargon that only those deeply familiar with the terms can understand.
- When you’re corresponding with your boss, it’s seldom a good idea to be informal and friendly unless you are close with them.
- If you’re emailing your friends to ask them to hang out, being stiffly formal might be off putting.
When you compose your email, the first and last sentences make the most impact in tone, so it might be a good idea to consider those more closely.
As an added point, it might be a good idea to write emotionally intelligent emails that recognize the recipient’s feelings. This type of email often taps into emotions through language, encouraging a positive response.
You can write:
Please come to the meeting at 3 PM.
This works, but an emotionally intelligent way to say this could be:
I’d appreciate your valuable perspective and expertise at the 3 PM meeting. Could you come?
There’s no need to overthink your emails, but it’s always a good idea to reflect on how your message could potentially make someone feel. Keeping this in mind can be helpful when you’re dealing with complaints or frustrations since you’re showing empathy which can lead to defusing a tough situation.
Make Sure Your Subject is Catchy, Yet Informative
The subject of your email is your first (and sometimes only) chance to make an impression and catch your recipient’s attention. The best subjects are catchy yet informative, making your recipient want to click.
Subjects that aren’t compelling mean your email might go ignored and unopened. When writing an email, it’s always a good idea to be clear, concise, yet catchy. It’s even more important when an email is urgent.
Here are a few examples:
For announcing a meeting:
- Meeting – Townhall, 28 September 10:30 AM
For urgent emails:
- [Urgent] Issues Preventing Logins
Asking someone to do something:
- Request: Sign NDA
Unfortunately, no matter how catchy and concise your subjects are, there’s always going to be a chance they could get ignored. However, this may just help you lessen the chances of it happening.
Avoid Using the Passive Voice
It’s easy to slip into using the passive voice since it sounds more formal and comes across as professional. However, when it comes to email communication at work, the passive voice can lead to misunderstandings and troublesome miscommunication.
Here’s an example:
Passive Voice Someone should help the new client with the onboarding and orientation procedures on Monday afternoon.
While there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with the way this was said, it comes across as unclear. Who exactly is supposed to help the new client? What time exactly should it be? Who is the new client?
Active Voice Please help our new client Tom with onboarding and orientation on Monday at 2 PM.
Using the active voice allows you to be clear on every point. It also lets you shorten your message, helping to make your emails efficient and concise.
Be Clear When Providing Instructions
When you’re asking someone to do something for you, it’s always a good idea to be clear with your instructions. Clear instructions prevent miscommunications and mistakes.
Here are a few tips to help you give clearer instructions:
- Provide necessary details
- Always provide important dates and times such as deadlines and meeting times
- Break complex instructions down into steps
- You can use bullets or numbers to make sure instructions are clear
- Keep paragraphs short with only one or two sentences
- Don’t hesitate to use formatting to make important information stand out
- You can use bold text to make sure important info isn’t missed
- You can change text color to denote importance
Consider the Last Few Details
When you’ve effectively composed your email and subject, there are just a few more things to do. You can give your email a quick once-over to make sure everything flows and conveys your message well. Additionally, you can look for spelling or grammatical errors.
Then, the only thing left to do is send.
When you’re sending your email, you can address it to:
- The recipient (Send To): The exact person(s) you are corresponding with
- Carbon copy (CC): An exact copy of the email will be sent to people you CC. They’re not your direct respondent, but the info in the message might be relevant to them.
- Blind carbon copy (BCC): A blind carbon copy means they get an exact copy of the email, but neither the recipient nor CCs can see that the BCC has received a copy.
You may feel like it’s necessary to CC or BCC people into some emails, but ask yourself whether it’s truly needed before you do.
One final thing you can look into is your timing — avoid sending urgent emails close to quitting time, for example. Timing your emails right can increase the chances your emails get read and responded to.
Effective Email Communication Goes Beyond the Workplace
It may take a while to get to a point where you’re comfortable with writing emails — and even then, you may still make the occasional mistake. However, there’s no denying that getting into the habit of composing email communications in a way that effectively gets your point across is highly beneficial.
It’s not just your career that you can use these new skills for, either. Although you’ll likely use these email communication tips mostly during work, you may just find that they can also apply to your personal emails, helping to improve your relationships!
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Chriselle has been a passionate writer for over 10 years, but she's a geek at heart. When she isn't busy writing, she spends her time streaming video games and learning new skills.