Helpful Tips For Composing a Difficult Email

While no one ever wants to be the bearer of bad news, there are times when we must compose a difficult or even “harsh” email. Whether it be sharing honest feedback, a differing opinion, or informing a colleague of a mistake; these instances which may not quite warrant a phone call or personal meeting, are still worthy of a properly written message.

male hands working with laptop computer

Often, however, even the most harmless words can be misinterpreted in written form, so naturally those conveying criticism of any kind have the potential to create more unnecessary tension between you and the recipient.

Preventing fallout is the goal when sending a hard email, yet fortunately, Sara McCord, professional advisor, writer, and career contributor, has offered some valuable guidelines for composing those difficult emails.

Line one: Start with a friendly opener.

McCord states, “When you’re writing the opening line (after the salutation that is), it can be helpful to imagine it’s a conversation. If someone walked up to you and dove right into their point, you’d be put off.” Often it’s something as simple and obvious as “Hope you enjoyed your weekend” or “How are you today?” that can get the message off to a good start.

Line two: Thank your recipient.

When appropriate, recognize your reader’s efforts. In short, always acknowledge the positive before the negative. Thanking your recipient for their efforts, time, work or thoughts on the issue at hand, can help to soften the impact of the rest of your message.

Line three: Show that you understand your reader’s perspective.

Of course, you don’t want to waste too much time before getting to the main idea, but pointing out a possible strength within the recipient’s work, standpoint, or input, will help them keep an open mind to the actual point you are trying to make. As an example, McCord suggests, “…you might tell a direct report that you can see how the strategy they implemented would help the team operate better [or] you might tell a colleague they did a great job addressing the client’s main concern”. However, what is important here is to keep your comments honest and sincere, as most people notice when they’re being “softened up” for something negative. Also, be sure to keep the praise related to the issue at hand, and don’t overdo it to the point where your main message becomes muddled in the process.

Main body of email: Provide structured explanation.  

While you may feel that your recipient does not particularly care to read the details of why you are heading in a different direction, in actuality, it shows your reader that you have enough respect for their input and intelligence when you do provide ample explanation. Nevertheless, you do want to avoid over-elaborating on the problem, so try to keep your sentences as clear and concise as possible. McCord suggests the examples, “We decided to go a different direction because we needed a strategy that prioritized cost-effectiveness, due to budget constraints”; or perhaps, “… I’d love to see [these] changes carried through other aspects of the presentation because we’d like them to be consistent”. If you are offering multiple changes, McCord advises the use of bullet points to clearly delineate your ideas. However, the key is to include the reasons for your change in each sentence. In this case, budget constraints and/or consistency throughout a presentation are the desired results.

Concluding line:  Offer your assistance.

McCord advises that, as the writer, you should “[always] end by asking if you could clarify anything or answer any questions”. While it’s commonplace to remind the reader to contact you with any questions, there is an important purpose for including those words. Ending your email simply with your critique provides a very one-sided approach to the subject. Offering your help, not only shows your concern with the reader’s response, but also upholds a collaborative spirit wherein you convey the message that you plan to solve the issue together.

Of course, the sign-off consisting of a simple “thank you”, “best”, or “sincerely”, is all you need for a closing.

Subject Line: Choose words carefully

While the subject line is reliant upon the content of the email, you should still keep the tone non-confrontational and constructive. Some even suggest that for emails of this type, avoiding words like “urgent” is a good idea. Also, be sure not to offer too much information directly from the body of the message in the subject line.

Email Envelope On Mobile Showing One Message Received

Integrating these tips the next time you must compose a difficult or potentially negative email may just make the experience less uncomfortable for both you and your recipient.

Further reading:  The Importance of Skilled Business Writing

 

Fred Coon, CEO

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200

Communications Review: Are You Sending Effective Business E-mails?

Here to Stay

It’s safe to say that hard-copy interoffice memos are passé; as they’ve long since been supplanted by the ubiquitous e-mail.  The functionality of e-mail allows us to stay in touch with our customers, suppliers, and team members with a significantly lowered cost and increased speed over traditional snail-mail.

business-emails-keyboard_envelope_email-keyE-mail also ameliorates some of the challenges of communicating through international time zones.  For example, your location in New York likely makes it difficult to speak at will to your partners in Japan or Australia, in real time.  Yet, through e-mail, business associates from remote locations can communicate with greater ease, as well as speed.

On a social/personal level, most have forgone the traditional e-mail in favor of texting and other instant messaging platforms, yet in the business world, there remains a certain sense security and formality to an e-mail message.  The ability to encrypt messages, attach confidential documents, schedule messages for later dates, track message arrivals, receive automatic receipt notices when your message has been opened, and correspond with several parties at once, makes e-mail a standard choice for almost all types of business communications.

Best of all, e-mails leave an undeniable electronic “paper-trail”, complete with time and date.  If the need ever arises, you can follow all of your correspondence paths, and even review earlier messages without first needing to file them somewhere physical in order to search and recover them, or any other sort of complex action.

It’s unmistakable that the advantages of e-mail in the business world are immense.  For better or worse, e-mail is a vital part of our culture’s communication method, especial in the business sector. As it won’t be going away anytime soon, be sure you are using it to its full and most effective advantage.

Here, we discuss some basic, yet perhaps forgotten or overlooked, imperatives which we should all be upholding when sending business e-mails.

Good vs. Bad

Succinct Communication

William Shakespeare once wrote “Brevity is the soul of wit”, yet seemingly, many neglect this concept.  Self-importance is hardly a reason to pollute your communications with effects that only you want to hear.

One Question Rule

Ask one question (or two, closely related questions) per e-mail.  Is your e-mail program set up with only an INBOX, SENT and TRASH folder?  Chances are, you have folders for people, various sub-topics, accounts, projects, and so on.

The individual who sends out an e-mail requesting a response regarding the latest financial report, the date of your next golf outing, when you’ll be sending over your new hire assessment, as well as the results of the most recent customer survey, may have a difficult time getting a timely (or complete) response from his or her recipient(s).

Even today, many  individuals feel they are doing their associates a favor by condensing a myriad of issues into one e-mail message, when, in fact, they are actually obscuring the significance of the most important matters (i.e., financial report) while reducing the chances of a timely response on any of the other less pressing questions (i.e., golf outing).  Categorizing questions – even if it means sending an extra e-mail or two – will allow recipients to easily organize topics, better dedicate their responses, and reply in a more timely and thorough manner.

Efficiency

While you should never use the subject-line to type out the bulk of your e-mail’s text, this space should definitely not be ignored or disregarded.  If you must send out a general reminder notice to your group, you can save everyone time by including the brief details in the Subject-line.  E-mail-Verload Solutions offers this helpful list of frequently-used e-mail acronyms to simplify and improve the effectiveness of your subject-line.

The Mechanics of E-mail Construction

Before you begin, you should be able to answer these two questions:

  1. Why am I writing?
  2. What do I expect to gain from this e-mail?

If you cannot definitively answer these questions, don’t send an e-mail.  A nebulous intent before you begin writing makes it almost certain that your message will not be clear.

Remember our friend Shakespeare above, and build your e-mail so that it is brief, functional, and respectful of your recipient’s time.  A template can also be quite helpful.  This particular blog at myenglishteacher.eu offers some extremely useful e-mail templates based on the subject and type of message you need to send.

However, regardless of your e-mail’s topic or intent, there are some basic guidelines which are generally applicable across the board.

  1. Use the name of your recipient(s) in the salutation.
  2. Include a pleasantry to set a congenial mood. (For example:  Extend your congratulations on a recent promotion, or express gratitude for an effort on your behalf.)
  3. State your request or issue as clearly and concisely as possible.
  4. Follow your request with a specific action to take, and then welcome the recipient(s) to contact you for any necessary clarification.
  5. Conclude your message on a hopeful/positive note, and don’t forget to say “thank you”.
  6. Include your closing/signature. (Tip: Be sure your closing/signature is concise and includes your name, title, company name, basic contact information. Use your “settings” function to set up your signature to appear in all newly composed messages.)
  7. Proofread thoroughly before clicking “send”.

When Not to E-mail

business-emails-communication-device-graphicE-mail can have a downside, too.  Sometimes communications require a great deal of detail, which can force you to throw all the conventional rules of a good e-mail out the window, so to speak.

However, when you feel that a particular e-mail’s back-and-forth correspondence is becoming unmanageable, do not be afraid to pick up the telephone, or even better, speak in person, if possible.  Ten or twenty interruptions to your day can be more time consuming than a brief phone call or face-to-face meeting.  You might be able to solve a problem in five or ten minutes on the phone that could have dragged out for a couple of days or more in e-mail.

While e-mail can be an indispensable tool, there will always be times when there is truly no substitute for conversational speaking.  In fact, as this technological age has advanced to a point where many of us are communicating with coworkers and associates almost solely via means of electronic messaging, we have come to realize that a misunderstanding can easily arise for the simple reason that the written word often does not convey the same emotion or intent as does the spoken word; even if the objective is identical.  When texting or e-mailing someone on a personal level, you may include a corresponding emoticon to soften the lines of your message, however, in business, where emoticons are less often used for fear of seeming unprofessional, words can often be misinterpreted.  This article at Fastcodesign.com further describes why certain sentiments can often be misread via e-mails and texts.

The Takeaway

E-mail is a fantastic contrivance, but it is not the ultimate solution to every communication problem.  The average professional can typically encounter up to 100 e-mails per day, and there are times when a brief conversation could eliminate 20 percent of your inbox. Therefore, choose your communication methods wisely, and not solely out of habit.

Conversely, the ability to make your e-mail messages work for you through proper composition, organization, and etiquette, can simplify as well as maximize your interactions with coworkers and associates, while conveniently documenting your exchanges for future reference.  When used effectively, the benefits of e-mail communication truly are invaluable.

Fred Coon, CEO

 

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10 Common Sense Rules for Successful Emails

Email Screen

Are you communicating effectively through your e-mails?  Do you find your recipients sometimes misunderstand your ideas or intent?

For example, sending a comment such as “I have met better salesmen in my nightmares”, followed by several “smiley” emoticons, is sure to evoke a perplexed and negative reaction.  Clear communication, and avoiding “passive-aggressive” language and jargon, is one of the many important rules of e-mail etiquette.

In this article, we will discuss 10 rules for composing e-mails that successfully convey what you actually mean without offending, inconveniencing, or confusing your recipients.

 

Let’s go over THE RULES

 

Rule one:

Write your e-mail and then put it aside for at least a couple of minutes while you do something else.   Maybe answer another e-mail and put that one aside.  If you’re quick, answer a third e-mail and then put it aside, too.  Now go back to the first—read it again—this time from the point of view of the recipient.  Did you come off as arrogant or passive-aggressive, or both?  Good for you—you recognized it before you hit the SEND button.  Now it’s time to fix it.

Rule two:

Did you just receive an arrogant-sounding email?  HOLD IT—before you fire off a hot-reply—remember “Rule One”?  Maybe they aren’t familiar with it.  Could you possibly be misinterpreting it?  Could the malice you sense be simply attributed to the sender’s lack of e-mail expertise?

Rule three:

When you forward emails, clean them up first.  No one wants to see 200 >>>>>>>>s spread over 15 lines before they can even read the presumably interesting information!  It bugs you, so it will bug the recipient, too.  And preface it with an explanation as to why the recipient is likely to find it interesting or useful.  Forwarded emails without personalized comments deserve to go directly into the trash.

Rule four:

Don’t forward jokes/hoaxes/time-wasters or anything else that even possesses the slightest possibility of irritating you if you hadn’t asked for it.  Why?  Same reasoning as above!  We have enough e-mail to wade through every day without more needless junk, cluttering up the process.

Rule five:

DON’T USE ALL CAPS!!!  Don’t use more than one punctuation character!!!  Even then, use them sparingly.  One question mark; one exclamation mark; and one ellipsis (…), even though it looks like three periods.  If you want to use @#$%, just stop and write the e-mail later, after you have calmed down.  Don’t be that guy/gal from Rule One.

Rule six:

See what you can do to minimize the occurrences of “I” and “me”.  Starting off with “You may be interested to know…”is much better than “I’ve been thinking, and occurs to me that…”  Every time you use the word “you”, your recipient gets to think “I”, and it makes the communication more personal.

Rule seven:

When the subject line comprises the entire message, include EOM at the end so that the recipient knows they don’t even have to open it because the Body is blank.  “Free cookies from Jane in lunchroom.  EOM” or “2:00 PM staff meeting canceled.  EOM”

Rule eight:

Address a single topic or question per e-mail, and add a useful subject line to aid in sorting.  Multi-question emails are hard to file or answer.

Rule nine:

Don’t include large attachments to e-mails without permission, and when you’re going to include an image or picture, always resize it, unless you’re a photographer who needs 2040 × 1080 pixel resolution (chances are, you’re not).  There is seldom a reason why an e-mail needs to be 1.5 MB.  Many systems will simply bounce something when it’s that large, so the recipient will never even see it anyway.  Use your common sense.

Rule 10:

Protect yourself!  Do not fill in the addressee/recipient field until you finish composing the letter.  If you accidentally hit SEND before your letter is complete, it could be embarrassing.  If the recipient field is already filled in, such as when you’re replying to a previous e-mail, just copy & paste it at the very top of the letter; leave the sender box blank until you’re done, and then move it back.

 

The TAKEAWAY

Laptop Keyboard

If you wouldn’t like to receive it, don’t send it.  Don’t fill your email with mysterious acronyms, poor punctuation, all lower-case letters, or egregious misspellings and pitiful grammar.  You can do better than that!  It can’t be said often enough: Use Your Common Sense!

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200