Imagine. You are invited for a job interview that is ideal for you. You did not set an alarm the night before. You wake up late and roll out of bed with no time to prepare. You put on the dirty clothes that you wore yesterday and get yourself a piece of cold pizza for breakfast. You haven’t even brushed your hair yet.
Or imagine that. You are invited to your boss’s office to discuss an important project. If this project goes well, you could be promoted. Instead of paying attention to the conversation, look out the window, tap the floor, and offer just a series of grunts in response to a suggestion from your boss.
If you behaved like this, you deserved to be fired, not promoted.
You wouldn’t show up late and be scruffy for an interview. And if you don’t have a kamikaze approach to office politics, don’t ignore your boss talking to you.
We spend hours practicing interview techniques. We get angry about what we’re going to say in a meeting with our boss. So why don’t we do the same thing when we write emails? Or even if we care, why don’t emails have the effects we think are necessary?
One reason is that we are swimming in an email deluge. According to research by the McKinsey Global Institute, the average employee spends two and a half hours emailing each day. That corresponds to 81 working days per year or a quarter of your working life.
Research by technology research consultancy The Radicati Group found that the average business user sent or received 108 emails per day in 2013. By 2020 it rose to 116 emails per day.
No wonder there are so many sloppily written emails through cyberspace. Who has time to write eloquent messages when there is so much to write about?
On the other hand, if email is central to our lives, shouldn’t it be a skill we can all master? If you spend a quarter of your professional life writing email, you should become more efficient at it.
Think about it like this. If you spent a quarter of your professional life giving presentations, wouldn’t you learn everything you could know about presentations? Or if you had spent a quarter of your professional life interacting with customers, would you find every resource you could find in customer service?
So what’s different with email?
Wouldn’t it be great to show that you are a real professional in every email you send? And even better if you’re writing an email that is actually read and executed?
Email is important. How you write your email is important to the people who receive your email. More importantly, however, is your ability to write emails that’ll have a huge impact on your career path. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s take a look at what the experts are saying.
Why is writing good email critical to your career?
Are you planning to move forward at work? If you have ambitions, you need to learn to write emails that deliver results.
As the Skills You Need website explains:
Being able to communicate effectively is the most important of all life skills … If you are applying for a job or seeking a promotion with your current employer, you will most likely need to demonstrate good communication skills.
Email is how we spend most of our time communicating with one another, so it’s your greatest opportunity. It gives you two hours each day to demonstrate your communication skills to your current employer.
Do you need more persuasion? Maggie Worth, director of communications at the University of West Georgia, writes:
Employees who have demonstrated the ability to represent themselves and the company clearly, convincingly and professionally are more likely to be selected for advanced positions.
Dr. Stephanie Heald-Fisher, Chair of the Globe University Graduate School, explains the importance of email in winning promotions:
In today’s business world, regardless of the industry, effective communication usually means heavy use of email, and use of email means you can write. The email is often the first impression the recipient receives from the sender. A badly written email leads to a bad first impression.
The promotion is also influenced by the writing skills. Good writing skills convey intelligence, professionalism and competence. Poor writing skills convey a lack of intelligence, professionalism, and competence. Once again, your professional image is influenced by your writing skills. The better your skills, the better your image and the better your chances of advancement.
In other words, if you don’t learn to write clear, professional, intelligent emails, your coworkers and boss will assume you are incompetent. You will forever be stuck at the bottom of the corporate ladder.
Writing a good email doesn’t just mean you know how to write a sentence.
Doesn’t everyone know how to write email?
Isn’t writing email something everyone can know? In today’s world, most of us can read and write. We know our spelling and grammar. Isn’t this enough??
It is certainly true that anyone with rudimentary computer skills can compose and send an email. Anyone with basic social skills will know how to make sure their emails aren’t blatantly offensive.
On the other hand, think about all of the poorly written emails that you have received in your life. You may have been grammatically correct. But they didn’t make a lot of sense.
Just because someone can speak does not make them a good speaker. Just because a person can write doesn’t mean they can write a good email.
Writing effective emails is a skill that you can learn. You need to practice too, but you have a quarter of your professional life to do it. So why spend time studying the theory?
We’ll figure out what makes email effective in no time. First, let’s look at some of the biggest email mistakes.
Do you write disaster emails like this?
Like most people, I get a lot of emails. Most of the emails I receive are effective. They make me feel good and let me know what to do. I look forward to responding and enjoy doing it.
Right now I’m getting a manageable number of emails and have the possibility to reply to every single email I’ve received. But sometimes there really is no answer. Most of the time this happens when I receive one of the following information:
- An email from someone I don’t know, who doesn’t introduce themselves.
- An email asking me for help without a “please” or “thank you” (or other courtesy tip).
- An email where the sender doesn’t know what they need from me. ( They want me to learn to read about all of cyberspace! )
- An email that just picks up on my mistakes without mentioning the good job I did.
The worst emails I get are grumpy liners from someone who has never contacted me. When you write to me you will at least have the courtesy to use my name and introduce yourself.
It seems that I am not alone in receiving confusing or rude emails. A recent survey by Sendmail found that nearly two-thirds of us (64%) sent or received an email that caused unintentional annoyance or confusion. In the Sendmail poll, what people were most angry about was:
- Not getting the answers they needed (51%).
- Unnecessary “Reply Alls” (25%);
- Confusing or vague messages (19%).
Writing ineffective emails doesn’t just hurt your career opportunity. It’s bad for your employer too. Katharine Hansen, Creative Director at Quintessential Careers, explains:
Email is so widely used around the world in workplace communications … that obscure, illegible, poorly written email is a waste of time, money, and productivity.
Hopefully, your emails aren’t as bad as the ones described above. And hopefully, your emails don’t make recipients confused or upset.
If you think your email needs to be working, don’t panic! You can fix the situation. Let’s start with a look at Why It’s So Easy for Email to Make a Bad Impression.
Your emails suffer like everyone else
Have you had a drink yourself before an important business meeting? Even after you cleaned up, you were sure everyone would notice. But nobody said a word.
This is the spotlight effect and everyone suffers from it. Psychologist Amie M. Gordon explains how it works:
We tend to overestimate the extent to which our actions and our looks are perceived by others … We are anchored by our own experiences and have difficulty aligning ourselves enough with them to be able to gauge exactly how much attention other people are paying us.
In other words, we look at the world through tinted lenses and we struggle to see the world through other people’s eyes.
When it comes to writing emails, that’s a problem. We can write something that makes perfect sense in our own minds. But just because it makes sense to me doesn’t mean it makes sense to you.
This is especially true when it comes to bringing emotions into our writing.
Lea Winerman of the American Psychological Association explains:
The reason for this communication link is… egocentrism – the established socio-psychological phenomenon where people have difficulty breaking away from their own perspectives and understanding how others interpret them.
Research shows people overestimate their ability to convey an intended tone in an email message – whether that tone is sarcastic, funny, or serious. People overestimate how well they can communicate a tone of voice in the messages they send.
The truth is, recognizing the tone of the voice in email is an almost impossible task. Studies found a 56% success rate for recognizing the voice tone in emails. That may sound good, but it is actually only marginally better than coincidence.
What can you do about it? The answer is to write effective emails.
What makes an effective email?
We explored why it’s so important to write a good email and why emails fail so often. But how can you write a good email that is interpreted correctly and produces results?
To wrap up this article, let’s take a quick look at how email works. Effective emails:
- Are focused on the recipient.
- Get attention before opening them.
- Let yourself be opened and read.
- Are kind and respectful.
- Are written with correct spelling and grammar.
- The recipient should feel good.
- Leave little or no room for interpretation ( they are not meant to be literature! ).
- Are as long as they need to be and no more.
- Have a clear call to action.
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