In Part 1 of my Workplace Communication series, we talked about the different types of verbal communication patterns that prevent professionals from clearly articulating themselves. But the way we write plays a critical role in making sure we effectively convey our messages.
Over the last three months, more people than ever are working remotely, and according to U.S. News & World Report, more than three out of four U.S. HR executives expect to see more employees continue to do so long term.
This is going to mean mastering the art of written communication. The words we write in our everyday emails and how we write them can play a huge role in how we are perceived.
Just like with verbal communication, we have certain phrases that slip into our emails to make us (or more likely the reader) feel more comfortable. They chisel away at our ability to come across as confident and strip down our assertiveness.
Before you click send, here are some phrases to completely edit out of your emails:
“I’m sorry . . .” – Unless you are genuinely expressing sorrow for someone’s misfortune or your wrongdoing to them personally (you kicked their puppy for instance). this is unnecessary. And you definitely don’t need to apologize for asking someone to do their job.
EXAMPLE: “Sorry, we are going to have to redo this”
BETTER: “This missed the mark and we are going to need to adjust XYZ”.
“Just . . .” – We need to stop using this word as it weakens a request or opinion. Most of the time you can go through your email and delete this word completely.
EXAMPLE: “I’m just checking in to see if you had a chance to review that document.”
BETTER: “I’m touching base to see what your timeline looks like on those revisions.”
“This might be a stupid question but . . .” – Like they said in school, there are no stupid questions. Well, sometimes there are—but don’t qualify your question as stupid. This gives the impression you haven’t bothered to find the answer for yourself.
EXAMPLE: “This might be a stupid question, but when does the client want to see this?”
BETTER: “When would you like a first draft?”“I may be wrong but . . .” – Don’t lessen the impact of what you say before you say it.
EXAMPLE: I may be wrong but I’m pretty sure the deadline is next week.
BETTER: I checked my notes and deadline is EOD next Tuesday, can you get me a draft by Monday?
“Does this make sense?” This is one I have to edit out of my own emails frequently. Trust that what you wrote makes sense. Don’t openly question in email whether your thinking is sensical.
BETTER: Let me know if you have any questions.
I cannot tell you how many emails I have opened and been instantly turned off from just by the simple fact that they were extremely long winded. You know the ones I am talking about – 18 lines bundled together to form four different thoughts? Here are some simple tips for breaking up your thoughts in email form:
Keep paragraphs short. Individual thoughts should be broken up by paragraphs. Additionally, no block of text should be more than 3-4 lines of text without a separation by bullet or paragraph.
Use bullet points to separate thoughts and visibly break up long emails with headers. I love getting an email that is broken up this way, it lets me take each point into consideration and easily refer to it later.
Consider if you should be sending out more than one email. This is especially prevalent now that so many of us are working from home. It is one thing to send out a couple of emails when you have several points to touch base on, but most emails should be kept to individual topics.
Unlike verbal communication, the person you are communicating with can’t see that you have received the information and are on top of the topic at hand or hear your tone of voice.
An exclamation point can go a long way. It can help to convey enthusiasm and soften the tone (when appropriate). Although, if you are like me and tend to be an excessive enthusiast of this punctuation mark – I recommend sticking to a 1 out of 3 maximum ratio so you don’t come across as a hyper active monkey (I am SO guilty of this)!.
Touch it once
I used to have a problem with remembering to respond to emails. I would open them and get distracted, or they would be too long for me to handle in the moment. As a result, I adopted a “touch it once” philosophy. I try not to open an email unless I know I can respond to the sender immediately. It often means I am opening an email and sending off a quick “thanks for this, I’ll be able to give you my full thoughts later this afternoon”. It gives the sender the visibility into my timeline and flags me to jot it down on my task list. It also brings me to my next point…
It should always be clear to the sender that you are on top of whatever is being asked of you in an email, or that you received the content they are sending. Even a simple “I’m on it” or “Thanks!” can go a long way in building rapport and confidence in your abilities.
No matter what your work setting is, and how many emails you need to push out to get the job done in a day, being clear, assertive and understanding in your written discourse can go a long way toward building team comradery.
Liz Helton of Holian Associates is a Personal Branding Expert and Resume Writer based in Northern California. She helps entry to senior level professionals step into the next phase of their career with confidence by helping uncover their unique stories and providing the tools to develop a clear understanding of their skills, experience, talents and goals. Previously, Liz spent nearly 10 years in Public Relations, giving her the unique ability to craft concise messaging points and develop story-based resumes that spark action. Liz has a B.A. in Journalism (Public Relations) from California State University, Chico, and is an active member of the National Resume Writers’ Association. Learn more about Liz on our website and at www.LinkedIn.com/in/lizhelton.