A large part of how we communicate is done via email and texting. I have to tell you I can’t imagine conducting business within an organization without it any more. But, here’s a question: Have you ever misinterpreted an email or text or had one of your emails or texts misinterpreted? If not, my hat’s off to you for being an excellent communicator. If you answered yes, I am right there with you. A key part of my growth as a transformational leader has been learning how to properly and effectively communicate with email and texts.
Have you ever seen that often conflict can come through an email or a text? Then it seems like the writer of the email is literally jumping right out of your screen and yelling at you and you feel like you need to yell back? But, when you actually look at the words, there was really nothing in there that should have caused a conflict, but it did.
People who have studied email and texting could write hundreds of books on what’s right and wrong about them. Since we don’t have time to go through a hundred-page book, I’d like to give you a small list of things that make a big impact on doing emails and texts.
Number one, when you’re reading an email or text, don’t read it with any energy or emotion. Why not? We know that 7 % of the communication there is in the actual words. The other 93 % of what someone is trying to say is in their body language (55 %) and their tone of voice (38 %), and we don’t have access to those elements in the email. So if we could learn not to read energy or emotion into an email or text, there’s a good chance that we won’t respond back with energy or emotion.
In an email, use a greeting, a salutation. We call that being relactional If we think about highly relational people being on one end of a continuum and highly transactional people being on the other end, we might call those in the middle of that continuum relactional, people for whom no transaction will ever destroy a relationship. With that relactional approach in mind, start off your email with something as simple as their name, “Hello, John” or an introductory statement “I hope you’re having a good day.” What that does is keeps them from possibly reading emotion in the email you sent.
Something else. If you want someone to call you, give them a phone call. If you want them to text you, text them. Email them if you want an email. Don’t text someone and ask them to call you. Don’t email someone and ask them to text you or email them and ask them to call you. That’s not fair. That’s putting your responsibility on someone else. Let’s not use email or texts to put something we’re responsible for on someone else.
When we’re using bold or all caps, let’s be careful that we’re only using those to emphasize a section or a thought and that we’re not using them to imply that we’re screaming or yelling at someone.
In our emails, let’s make sure that there’s a subject line and that it’s clear. With that subject line, it helps us stay in communication on an email chain as we progress through the related emails.
If addressing several topics, use bullet points or numbers. Don’t write the email as if it’s a letter. Don’t use really long paragraphs because you can often embed a question or a point in a paragraph and someone can miss it. If it’s a bullet point and separated from the rest of your email, you’ll know they’ll get the point that you want them to get.
When you’re going back and forth on emails, be sure the original email is in the chain and that it remains there until all that communication is finished, that it’s always attached for reference. Then the person you’re emailing with won’t make the possible mistake of responding to a different email because the body is not there for them to realize what they’re responding to.
If we want to reply down in the body of an email message, we can use a different font or a different color. It can be very helpful at times if someone sends you a bullet point or several questions for you to say at the beginning of your response that you’re going to answer below in a different font or a different color or maybe all caps for ease in finding your response. Then we can respond to those bullet points or those questions down in the body to make it much easier for the recipient to respond back.
I strongly encourage you not to use blind copy very often. Use it for an “fyi” if you want someone to get some information. Use it if you’re sending out broad, group emails. Actually, that’s the best place to use it so that when people reply, it doesn’t go back to a hundred people. Be careful not to use it to gossip or to give bad information or to say something you don’t want others to know about.
Here’s another big one. Don’t try to resolve conflict through email or text. If there’s a conflict, pick up the phone and set up a time to go face-to-face. If it’s not possible to get together in person, at least talking on the phone is much more effective than emailing. When we try solve conflict through media, we often simply continue the conflict and it just goes on and on.
These are just a few reminders. We’ve found if we just use them our relationships stay stronger. And when our relationships are stronger, we’re much more productive. If we’re more productive, especially in our organizations, we are actually more profitable.
Here are some other reminders about the words we actually use in emailing and texting. What are some words that we want to be careful about using or not using? These are words to remove or at least to be careful how we use them, not just in emails and texting, but also in our verbal communication. Words like need, as in “You need to do this” or “I need you to do this.” Save the words “I need” for something you really need. Often we say that word when we really don’t need it but it’s really a request for someone to do something for us.
A word like should is another example of words we might be able to remove. Should is a shame word. It inflicts shame. “You should do this” or “You should do that.” Be careful with those kinds of statements.
The word but. Many times, people will give an affirmation and then they’ll say, “…but….” That’s a transitional phrase. Be careful not to use that word because people won’t really remember the affirmation. All they’ll remember is the but and what came after it.
Words like always and never. “You always do this.” Or “You never do that.” Since neither is most likely really true, just be careful when you use those words that they are used in an appropriate and limited time and place.
The last area we heavily encourage people to cut out is the use of four-letter words. Cut out the cussing in your organization. Those four-letter words don’t really help. They don’t add productivity. As a matter of fact, many times they lower productivity. We encourage you to consider not using those words in emailing or texting or in personal one-on-one communication.
As we keep thinking about effective communication, we see the qualities and skills of leaders are strongly tied to the words we use, to what we say and how we say it. While email and texting are great tools for a transformational leader to use today, we also understand they are only as effective as we allow them to be.
Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.