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How To Write Better Emails As A Leader
We live in an attention economy, where the bounds of our productivity and relationships are no longer limited by our access to information, but rather by our ability to sort the relevant from the irrelevant, suggests Dr Charles Chaffin, author of Numb: How the Information Age Dulls Our Senses and How We Can Get them Back. He concludes that advertisers, co-workers, and potential mates are all vying for our attention, knowing that our wallets and efforts only come after gaining our attention. But while the information age brings infinite choice, whether shopping, food delivery, or dating, we can become paralyzed by too much choice, leading to indecision – “causing us to check social media or work email far too often,” says Chaffin.
Consequently, emails have become the ‘first line of defense’ we need to crack to secure face-time with people. If we’ve started a new job remotely, it’s our first point of contact with our new teams. And in the absence of real-life meetings, we’re often judged solely on the content of our emails by clients, colleagues, and stakeholders. We’re playing a high-stakes game over email. And yet, so many emails fail to hit the mark. Too dry, too dull, too waffly. The list goes on. Writing emails that persuade and influence is a crucial skill we now need to master to thrive in a hybrid working world. The fact is, this is not an easy skill to master as emails are asynchronous by their design.
Words written can be wrongly interpreted and the spirit of the email may be completely lost. “It is therefore important that we continue to develop this skill. We may not get it right all the time, but we must keep striving for it”, says Dr Lebene Soga, Lecturer and Programme Director at Henley Business School, whose research looks at textual communication on platforms. Great emails can move projects forward at a lightning pace, motivate teams, secure meetings, job interviews, and even pay rises. Here are three tips – proposed to help you get what you want every time you hit send.
Communication through email differs from in-person communication mainly due to its limitation of nonverbal cues that generate trust and empathy, says Dr Selin Kudret, an Assistant Professor at Kingston Business School. Making social influence and gaining compliance is not easy remotely. A requester is more likely to appear well-meaning and sympathetic in person than over email, which will help establish trust and increase influence over the receiving party, increasing the chances of compliance, that is, getting what you want from the other party. Research indicates that people are less influential than they think over email. In email communications, requesters tend to overestimate compliance when making requests over email because of the perspective-taking failure – they are too focused on the self-knowledge they have of their trustworthiness and circumstances. However, since the implicit trust conveyed in face-to-face interactions is mostly lost over email, the receiver’s empathy towards the requester may not be activated. The sender may not get what they expected from the receiving party. Therefore, when we aim at social influence and expect to gain compliance from others through email communication, our key strategy should be to generate mutual trust and empathy, Kudret concludes.
Email shouldn’t be a one-way street or a megaphone to bark orders. “Think of email as a conversation with a pause,” says Kim Arnold, author of Email Attraction: Get What You Want Every Time You Hit Send. “After all, email addresses are still people. And if we want to influence people, we need to create empathy using dialogue.” This is particularly important in a hybrid working environment, where leaders need to use email to motivate and inspire their teams, not just to get work done.
5 Cognitive Biases Blocking Your Success
Emails that use more ‘carrot’ than ‘stick’ work best to create empathy – they make people want to reply to us rather than feel they should. The payoff? According to Arnold, people do what you want faster, more willingly, and without being chased: a win-win situation. She suggests trying these techniques to add more empathy to your emails:
- Most emails start with the word ‘I’ e.g.: ‘I need you to fill out your appraisal form.’ But the benefit to the reader isn’t clear. Emails like this feel too’ me, me, me’ and can make your team feel like you don’t have their interests at heart. Wherever you can, flip the beginning of your email to use ‘you,’ not ‘I’. So, instead of the above, try “Bonus season is coming up, so you need to fill out your appraisal form.” (The mention of bonuses might make them feel more motivated. )
- Use questions to start conversations. Instead of ‘Let me know if you have any questions’, ask ‘Do you have any questions before you start?’ And instead of ‘I hope you’re well,’ ask ‘How are you getting on this week with juggling all your projects?’
- Show appreciation when people do reply quickly and/or effectively: ‘Thanks for such a speedy and clear reply’. They’re more likely to do it again.
Our emails should be a reflection of our personality. They should be a substitute for when we can’t be there in person. And they should sound like us. However, says Arnold, “All too often, there’s a gaping disconnect in how we come across in our emails versus real life. People who are warm and engaging in person can be dry as a cracker on email. Or worse, seem prickly or passive-aggressive.” This can alienate our recipients. So think about how you want to be seen or what others value most in you, and make sure that’s reflected in every email. For example, if people love your energy and humor, ditch the starchy corporate-speak and use informal words and anecdotes to inject more life into your emails. If you’re known for your efficiency, keep your emails short and to the point, with clear action points that are wonderfully straightforward to understand and respond to. And most importantly – write how you speak. Read your emails aloud and ask: does it sound like me? If not, it’s time for a rewrite. Soga agrees and reminds us that whereas studies about emails differ in their conclusions, what is consistent in all these studies is that emails are not all about benefits as they can also be a source of stress for individuals. “I study textual communication, but I still get it wrong all the time with emails. Emailing is a challenge we all need to craft our individual approaches to, that is, letting your email be you”, continues Soga.
As well as writing emails that ooze personality and empathy, think about how you can make them easy: easy to read and easy to respond to. “People generally reply to the easiest emails in their inbox first – not necessarily the most important or urgent,” says Arnold. “So take time to craft emails that are short and clear as it will save you so much time in the long run (no more endlessly chasing unanswered emails). With email writing, rambling is gambling.” She suggests using the following techniques to make your emails irresistible:
So, in a world of digital distractions, attention is the new oil. Every email has to count. But before you send an email, begin with the end in mind. What outcome do you want to achieve from your email? Have a clear outcome and cut through the noise and focus on what really matters.
Set a clear goal for your email
If you are not clear about the purpose of your email before you start to write it, you can be sure that the recipient won’t be either. Clarifying what you are trying to accomplish with your message helps you express yourself effectively when you decide to put pen to paper.
All good emails have one – and only one – goal. This is called the ‘one thing rule.’ By covering only one thing in your email, you make it easier for the recipient to understand and take action. Requesting more than one action in an email can lead to confusion, which leads to inefficient communication.
To define a goal for your message, you can ask yourself the following questions:
At times you absolutely need to cover several things around the same topic in one email. In this case, it’s increasingly essential to format your message clearly by using bullet points or numbered lists. Highlighting different email components makes it easier for the recipient to process your message and respond in a manner that covers everything you need.
Know your email etiquette
It can be defined as a code of conduct that includes unwritten guidelines for email communication regarding language, spelling, grammar, and manners. The etiquette depends on whom you are emailing. It’s always safer to stay on the formal side of conventions.
Adhering to email etiquette will help you establish professionalism in your communication, build strong relationships with your co-workers and represent the company well. As there’s no authoritative resource on this topic, we’ve compiled a list of the most important rules and tips on email etiquette every professional should know. With this quick read, you can update your knowledge on the topic and assess your email with a critical eye.
5. Follow proper email structure
The best way to write an email is to stick to the format. Email has been around for decades, and many of us have been using it since our childhood. That’s why our brains are wired to read them in a certain way. Whether the recipient would skip all the niceties and formalities, it’s easier for them to get the gist of it if you don’t steer away from what’s expected.
The best practice for email structure is as follows:
If some of these components of a good email sound like a foreign language to you, don’t worry. We’ll cover each part of a well-structured email in this blog post. By the time you’ve done reading, you’ll know everything you need to know to finesse all of them. And if you need further help, you’ll also soon learn about a tool called Flowrite that can become your AI email assistant and take care of structuring your emails for you.