Have you ever received a business email that left you puzzled and pondering about ‘what the author meant’?
You are not the only one. We have all experienced it more than once in our careers.
The problem is that, by the time we got all the clarifications needed (provided that we actually made an effort to do so), we had spent a lot of energy and time on the task. It is also likely that the message was no longer valid.
Similarly, we have all received emails from someone with an attitude – causing the blood to boil inside our veins. No doubt, our reply was not a pretty one. Even those of us who refrained from fighting back probably still have an unpleasant, long-lasting impression of the author of that or another contemptuous email.
Contrary to common beliefs, there are no ‘difficult’ people – it is us and our attitudes that make situations difficult, and escalate problems. Bear that in mind, when communicating with others.
By being courteous and clear in your emails, you show your professionalism and respect for the recipient. In return, you are likely to receive their appreciation and willingness to cooperate, which is what business is all about.
Follow these five simple rules for writing successful business emails:
1. Use appropriate salutations and close your emails properly
– even if you are emailing your colleague or a very friendly customer. Everyone’s busy (not just you), and salutations are short and quick to type.
Know your target audience, and address them accordingly.
Bear in mind that some people like formal communication, while others prefer a bit more relaxed tone. In the latter case, you need to recognise and respect the boundaries – avoid the language and spelling used in informal oral communication. This is a business email, so keep it simple, friendly and professional.
2. Avoid sending blank emails with attachments, or just URL links.
Do not assume that the recipient will know what to do with the attached file, or will link the context of it to your previous emails. Consider the fact that someone else may need to pick up and deal with your email while the original recipient is away, or the original recipient may need to refer to your message months later. Will your email still make sense to these people?
Security is another issue to consider. Links or attachments sent via email can contain viruses, scams or phishing content. We all get told by security experts not to open suspicious emails, even those sent from legitimate email accounts as they may have been hacked; and empty emails with URL links or attachments are exactly that: suspicious!
3. Leave sarcasm, wit and snappy comments to comedians.
What sounds funny and clever to you, may be perceived by your colleague or the client as rude and unprofessional.
If the recipient of your email is asking for further clarifications, provide a simple explanation. Do not assume that the person is lazy, unintelligent or being ‘difficult’ – they probably would not need to ask for clarification if your email was precise in the first place.
4. Be clear.
Plain English is sufficient for successful communication. Complex language, jargon, abbreviations and acronyms are difficult to understand by most people, native and non-native speakers alike. Be considerate to the reader, who may not be familiar with the catch phrases you tend to use in your department.
Clarity can also be achieved by structuring the text appropriately.Use paragraphs, bullet points and correct punctuation to convey a well-organised and precise message.
5. Avoid writing one-line emails.
Contrary to expectations, they are massive time wasters!
They are often blunt and clumsy. One-line emails can be confusing and misleading, as they require the reader to interpret what your intentions or expectations are. This is particularly true, if you placed the key information only as the title of your email. After all, not everyone reads the titles of all the emails they receive. People may open their emails automatically, knowing that they came from you.
Consequentially, more time and effort is spent on both sides to clarify the one-line message in subsequent emails.In the worst-case scenario, if the recipient decides not to ask for further clarifications (perhaps because they do not want to be seen as ignorant), they may interpret your email ‘incorrectly’ and do the exact opposite of what you expect them to do.
However obvious the five rules may be, many of us keep forgetting to implement them. Some of us simply cannot be bothered. If that is the case, we should not be surprised to get a mixed reaction to our next email yet again!Nonetheless, consider how pleasant and time-efficient our communication with others could be, if we all decided to follow those five, very simple rules on writing business emails.
Is it worth a ‘hassle’? I know it is, and I hope you do, too.