Ironically, in this day of mass communication, real communication is becoming more and more challenging. While we have seemingly unlimited resources for communication at our disposal in today’s world, communication that formerly most often happened face-to-face between and among physically present individuals now most often happens through some form of on-line exchange.
Today, a significant portion of our communication happens through email and texting and even social media. These communication tools have become a vital way we connect with each other. In fact, I couldn’t imagine conducting business within an organization without it anymore, but I have found I have needed to learn how to better use these tools. A key part of my growth as a transformational leader was learning how to communicate properly and effectively through email and texting. I can still mess up on occasion, so I still ask people to be patient with me.
Communicating Effectively in Writing
Since much of communication today is done through the written word, and since the written word is much different today than in the past, we need to know how to use words effectively. Let’s talk about how to communicate well through emails and text messages.
1. Don’t Read Emotion into Email or Text
The first thing to remember is don’t read energy or emotion into emails or texts. That’s number one. All you have in an email or text is words, and words only account for 7% of communication. The other 93% of communication happens through body language and tone of voice which cannot be seen or heard through texting or emails. As we keep this in mind, it will be easier to restrain ourselves from responding to what we read in an email or text with negative energy or emotion.
2. Include a Greeting
The second thing we need to do is always use a greeting in your emails. Start off with something as simple as the person’s name or a simple greeting. For example, “I hope you’re having a nice day.” This small greeting will help your email not seem so blunt or brusque and will also help to prevent the person from reading negative emotion or energy into your email or text.
3. Use the Communication Channel You Want the Person to Respond With
Third, when you are asking for a response from someone, use the same communication channel on which you want the person to respond. For example, if you want the person to call you on the phone, call them on the phone and leave a message to that effect. If you want the person to respond by text, send a text. Don’t text someone and say, “Call me.” Don’t email someone and say “Text me” or “Call me.” Here’s why. That puts your responsibility on to someone else. If you want a call back, make a call to say that. If you want an email response, write an email to request that. If a text is what you need, write a text to that effect. How would you like to get twenty emails or twenty texts from twenty different people in one day telling you to call them when you get a chance? If text or email is the preferred form of response for a particular communication, a simple voicemail after the text, reminding the person that you left the text or email asking them to call is an easy solution.
4. Use Bold or Caps Carefully
Here’s another issue to watch out for. Be careful about using bold or all caps. Bold or all caps can easily communicate to someone that you are yelling at them. A positive use for bold or all caps is to highlight something important so that it stands out and the reader will be sure and see it. When using bold or all caps, be careful, though, to explain that you are using them only to point out a section or a thought to make it easier for the reader to find. When you explain the purpose, you are assuring the reader that the bold or all caps are not a means to imply that you are yelling at them.
5. Put a Subject Line in Emails
The fifth rule of thumb is to use a clear subject line in emails. A good subject line will help you to stay in communication about an issue as you’re working through it. It also helps separate the emails into clear categories in your inbox so that the different emails from different people about different issues can easily be identified with their subject content.
6. Use Bullet Points or Numbers
Number six. If you are addressing several topics in one email or text, use bullet points or numbers. Don’t write the email or text like it’s a letter. A question you have or an important point you’re trying to make can get buried in a paragraph, making it easy for the reader to miss it. If you use a bullet point or a number, there is a much better chance that the reader will catch it and get the point. You can also separate important topics with a new paragraph.
Also, if you want to reply within the body of an email, use all caps or a different font or color. If someone sends a list of bullet points or questions, just say at the top, “I’m going to answer below in a different font and in all caps (or in a different color) to make it easier for you to find my responses.”
7. Keep Conversations Connected Together
Here’s the seventh point. Keep email conversations intact and connected. When you’re going back and forth in emails, be sure that the original email is there and that it remains there until all the communication related to that issue is finished. The previous emails should remain in the correspondence string for reference. That way, you’ll help to prevent the person from responding to the wrong email, especially if you have multiple email communications going with the same person.
8. Use CC or BCC Carefully
Next, limit sending carbon copy or blind copy emails. I strongly encourage you to be very careful about how you use the carbon copy or blind carbon copy features. You can use them for FYI’s if you want someone to have more information about a topic. And you can also make it clear as to whether you want people to “reply all” so they don’t do that unless necessary. That way, your people won’t get dozens of unwanted or unneeded emails in their inboxes. A blind copy is also good to use as a way of preventing people from sending an email via “reply all.” But, don’t use blind copies to give information to someone that you don’t want others to know you sent to them. This will often end up getting out and causing conflict and a significant waste of time.
When you’re sending texts to a large text group, be careful not to respond to the whole group when replying to someone’s text. Instead, respond to them separately that you liked or agreed with the text they sent unless it is important that the whole group know each person’s response to the text. Otherwise, all the phones of the people in the text group light up relentlessly when someone sends a “Like…” or “Loved…” as a response to a group text.
9. Don’t Address Conflict Through Emails or Texts
Here’s number nine: Don’t ever try to resolve conflict through email or texts. If there’s a conflict going on, the best solution is to go to that person directly face-to-face. That way, full communication is possible when they see our body language and hear our tone of voice as well as hear the words we speak. Or, if that’s not possible, pick up the phone and speak to that person by phone. Then they are at least hearing our tone of voice. When we try to resolve conflict through email or texting, we are only prolonging and often escalating the conflict. And remember that the recipient of the message is only getting 7% of the communication when they are only seeing the words in an email or text, which can elongate and escalate the conflict.
10. Avoid Some Words
The tenth note to remember is to avoid using words in the wrong context. One word that is often misused in emails and texts, as well as verbal communication, is the word need. For example, “You need to do this.” Or, “I need you to do this.” Save the word need for something you really do need.
Also, avoid misusing or overusing words like should or must in statements like “You should (or you must) do this.” Should can be a shame word, and must can be controlling.
Another word to be careful about using is the word but. Often, people will give an affirmation and then say, “But…” When we do that, we have just negated the positive thing we had wanted to convey. But is a transitional phrase and will cause the person to forget how you had just affirmed them and only focus on what comes after the but.
Other words to be careful about using are words like always and never. “You always do this.” Or “You never do that.” Both are usually not true. When we use those words, the person usually just tunes out what we are trying to say because neither statement is true.
11. Ban Cussing
I get a lot of pushback on this one, but I am okay with that. Let me just ask you if you are impressed when people cuss at you or in front of you. If not, then you can be pretty sure that they are not impressed with you when you do it. I suggest that you cut out the cussing in your organization and in your personal life. They can easily cause an emotional response even if that response is internal and you don’t see it. Those four-letter words just don’t help you. They don’t add productivity. As a matter of fact, they can lower productivity when they strike an emotional chord in other people.
12. Include Punctuation When Voice Texting and Voice Emailing
When using your microphone to voice text and voice email, be sure to include punctuation at the end of sentences. It’s also a good idea to speak the commas that might be necessary to make your message clear. In addition, include any breaks between thoughts in texts and also dictate new paragraphs in emails. When any of these clarifications are left out of your messages, it is very difficult for the reader to interpret what is being said and could require them to reread it over and over to try to understand it. If they happen to put the punctuation in a different place than you had intended, the whole text or email could be woefully misread.
When you have finished dictating your message, don’t forget to read back over what was said before you hit send. Spell check may want to say something different than what was intended. (Okay, I have to tell you I learned that one the hard way…LOL). Voice text and email are great tools when used correctly but can really send inaccurate and confusing messages and drive people crazy when not done well.
These are just a few keys to communicate better in writing. These reminders can really help improve our written communications because effective communication is more important today than ever. As a transformational leader, we want to be effective in the kind of communication that is most often used and in the way we make use of it.
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.