“The email looks ok to me, Don. It’s accurate, reads clearly.”
He nodded, continuing to look at his screen. Then he started to edit again. “I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “I’ll buy you a coffee later and explain.”
So we went off for coffee. And Don entertained me with a treatise on the nuances of email, something he’d obviously given a lot of thought to.
To start with, Don began, communication is normally made up of words and body language.
With email, you lose the body language. You lose the vocal variety, the tone. And words, which when spoken and accompanied by body language would very likely be received as intended, may not be well received when sent by email.
“So”, Don continued,” I always check to see if I need to soften the tone of my emails.” After which he gazed at me with raised eyebrows and added, ‘Yes, I have had problems where my tone was perceived as harsh when not intended to. ”
And he also gave me the following pointers.
“Practice good manners. Be polite.”
“Good manners still count today (they always will). The words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way towards showing respect for the reader.”
“Two, your message may be clear, direct, and to the point but it may be just a little too blunt.”
“This is where ‘how well does the reader you know you?’ comes into play. You may feel proud that it is so crisp and clear. This may be ok if the reader is someone you are very familiar with and the message is not contentious. Starting to get my drift on this one, Joe? Understand there are different ways to deliver the same message and some might irritate the reader. I will confess to well intentioned emails that I felt were perfectly innocent but in hindsight could have used some ‘softening’ before they were sent. On the plus side, being a grownup and ‘fessing up to the receiver you could have done a better job is humbling and usually scores some points and gains you respect with the receiver but it’s an experience best avoided if you can.”
And Don’s final words of advice:
“If you add the words ‘you dummy’ to a sentence in your email, and it sounds like it belongs, rewrite it.”
“And on second thought, I’m not buying coffee, my friend. You are, to thank me for this face saving advice I just shared with you.”
So coffee was on me that day.