With the accelerating pace of an “always-connected” society, attention is ever more difficult to obtain. Social media, texts, phone calls, voice mails, chat conversations, and emails vie endlessly for our attention. Add to that a deluge of advertisements, blogs, streaming media, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, music, apps, and video games, and it’s amazing that anything remains in our consciousness for long.
It’s no wonder that our inboxes overflow with unread or hastily-skimmed emails. With all those competing communication channels, messages often don’t get through. How many times has a friend, colleague, or family member asked “didn’t you read my email?”
Email Is Still Number One
But email still rules, especially for business. Pew survey results, published in August of 2011, found search and email to be respondents’ top two online activities. More than 90 percent of those polled said that they used email, 61 percent of whom reported using it daily.
So, how do you ensure that your important messages are read? Offer your readers a break from the overwrought, ambiguous, and often sloppy world of instant communication. Here are six crucial ways to make your email more effective:
1) Use an informative subject line. Sometimes, the subject line can be your whole message. Other times, it can be your must important point or an action step.
- Keller File Attached For Your Review
- What Time Is Tonight’s Faculty Meeting?
- The District Manager Invited Us To Lunch Friday Afternoon
- Minor Payroll Issue
That last one incorporates a technique that can improve the odds you’ll get a good response. By framing your request as only a “minor…issue”, the problem will seem easier to correct than if you had framed it as a “big problem” or “complete mess”.
It may well be that you have three or four incorrect entries on your latest pay stub and haven’t a clue as to why. However, by inviting your recipient to consider your “minor” problem, she is more like to get started solving it.
2) State your primary point right away. Don’t wait until the second, third, or last paragraph. Get to the point in your first sentence.
3) Tell ’em what you told ’em. If your message is more than two paragraphs, conclude with your most important point. That catches readers who jump to the end for the bottom line. Or, if there’s a next step you want your recipient(s) to take, conclude with that – and be specific. For example, “please call me today between 3 and 4pm” is much better than “it would be nice if we can get this matter resolved”.
4) Keep it brief. Cater to a short attention span, using short paragraphs and concise sentences. Rather than “it has come to my attention that the login we normally use has become broken” use a briefer alternative, such as “our login doesn’t work.”
5) Stick to one subject. Wedging multiple ideas or requests into a single email will likely be futile. Save each new item for another email, a text message, or a phone call.
6) PROOFREAD. Check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Sending an email riddled with errors gives the impression that you either can’t communicate well or that you don’t care. Neither reflects well on you.
Beyond the basic rules of language, make sure your message is clear and concise. The more important the message, the more time it’s worth making sure your readers won’t wonder what you meant. Trim unnecessary words and make sure your sentences can’t be interpreted more than one way. More time reviewing your work now means less time having to explain yourself later.
Manage Your Emotions
Proofread for tone, as well. Avoid sounding condescending, sarcastic, angry, or too casual. If you’re writing to superiors, err on the formal side (though try to avoid stuffy “corporate speak”; choose your own words). If you’re writing to colleagues, you can be more relaxed, but if you’re writing to clients or people with whom you have not yet established a rapport, be humble and try to see things from their viewpoint. If you’re writing to subordinates, feel free to communicate expectations and be direct.
Quick Tip: if your audience is a mixture of superiors, colleagues, and subordinates, then it’s best to keep your message formal.
For important messages, spend time away from a first draft so that you can review it later with a fresh perspective. If possible, have someone who can offer an objective opinion (and perhaps good grammar advice) look over what you’ve written. Even when you think you’re controlling your emotions or being clear, you can be very surprised by the feedback you’ll get.
Yes, despite the growing number of ways we can reach out to each other, email remains the king of business communication. Following the tips outlined in this article will help you get your messages read – and the results you want.