Talking through Emails

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Since I was feeling a little lost in deciding what to share in my next blog, I went ahead and did the easiest thing. I asked my client, and he said he would like to read about email writing and the tension it causes at the office.

As you are reading this piece you may feel that it’s too basic with obvious bits of information, but I assure you the best of us falter here.  In our attempt to sound brief and succinct we end up being abrupt. While we want to sound all business like we sometimes come across as indifferent and disrespectful in our writing. I sure have been there many times.

So I asked myself, “Why is it happening?” I realised it’s because I had not been attentive to my intention. Secondly, since the person was not around I had been focussing only on the message, and how I was feeling at that point in time.

Emails are equivalent to a conversation with another person but only in this case, we don’t have the convenience of being flexible in our communication based on the responses of the listener. What we write becomes the final message and cannot be erased. The reader can read the message several times and feel the heat or have a respectful experience. Writing an email or messaging is certainly a skill that is worth developing if you feel people and relations at work are important.

Your Email can be the First Impression of you:

When you finally meet a manager face to face from another regional office after interacting with him on a couple of emails it’s actually not the first time you are meeting him. Think about this - He writes to you and several others to submit some information about the last official trip you have had. You take your own time to reply and send the details. He replies back probably denying passing some of the bills and also makes it a point to note your delayed reply. You feel troubled and write to him giving him a piece of your mind. Now that you meet him, can you sense the tension? How do you perceive him? How do you think he perceives you? How could you have handled it differently?

I believe emails were formulated to communicate information, data, schedule meetings etc. But most often it is seen that it also becomes the breeding ground for animosity, a place to express sarcasm and disgruntled feelings. Instead, considering the fact that we communicate quite a lot through emails, what if we looked at messaging as a space to create and maintain relationships?

It does not take much, really!

When you sit down to write a mail, what are your thoughts?

    1. If time is on your mind and you wish to finish it off as a chore in the next half an hour or so, then probably you may get abrupt in your writing. Eg: Your client writes to you raising several questions about the progress of a project. You reply saying,

            “ My team is on the job and will get in touch with you today!”

  1. 2. If you are upset with the progress of a job and want to get things rolling as completion of the task is what you are thinking of, then you might use a language that is a bit cold. You may write,

              “ The tasks are getting rescheduled and the deadline is approaching. What needs to happen to get this job done?? I want the final execution plan up and running by today evening 5:00 pm. Please confirm asap! "

  1. A client is complaining and you feel he is being unreasonable. Now if your attention is on defending your actions, then your email may sound like you are giving excuses. Eg : You write

I understand from my staff that you are upset with the delay. Since you had not issued the purchase order on time we had already mentioned that there would be non- compliance of the due date.  Also, the other vendors appointed by you have not cooperated with us, and that has caused further delay. Please refer our trailing emails."

But… along with the above if you truly believe that this relationship is important to you and each individual deserves respect, then how you would be writing would be very different.  You will generate a positive intent while writing any email or a text message when your focus is on maintaining a fine balance between work completion and the human aspect. 

Eg: My friend had sent a request email asking for a deposit reimbursement for a facility that he had been using and was now no longer needed. He received a mail stating

“Sure, the deposit reimbursement will happen once all the pending amounts are cleared”

He felt it implied that he has not paid his bills and certainly did not appreciate it. But then keeping the focus replied saying:


Thank you for your immediate response.  I believe I do not have any dues. You may check with your office though. 


The author, Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, of Business writing with heart writes in her book - Invest a few moments or minutes while writing a message and it saves a huge amount of time, effort, and money that are otherwise required to salvage situations that have suffered because of insensitive communication or no communication at all.

Your written messages can make people feel valued and respected - Little things you can do   

  1. Acknowledge messages:

Imagine you have a guest at home and he has said something to you, do you simply look away? I think not. So just like we acknowledge someone in person, a quick reply saying a “Thank you” or “Yes, sure. Noted.” can make the reader feel great.

  1. Interim emails:

Now imagine you have knocked on someone’s door, you know he is in there and yet does not open the door.  That’s the feeling most of us get when we don’t receive a reply to a message within a day. It is possible that one does not have the information then or has the time to reply. So send in an interim email asking for some time. This will create a better rapport with the receiver.

  1. Going beyond the template:

Initially, when I began working I had no idea how to write an email so I referred to the emails written by others, and soon was sticking to a formal language template. Phrases like please do the needful, this is to bring to your kind notice, using “we” than “I” etc delivered the message and also made me feel safe. But it was not the wisest choice if I wanted to build relations. Connecting with people through pleasant engaging language is an excellent way to build goodwill.

  1. Relationship Building Language:

Sometimes instinctively we write the first thought that comes to our mind and sound abrupt. That could lead to a misconception of our intention in that conversation. Positive worded sentences always hit the right tone. Thoughtless, embarrassing comments or feedback will weaken your relations. Eg: I will not be able to send you the details as I don’t have the report vs I will send it to you as soon as I receive it.

  1. Know when to speak and when to write:

I had met this person sometime back who had gone through a lot of stress at his last job since he had tried to resolve an issue with another department through an unending email spat, involving all levels right up to the MD. Later he realised all that was needed was to have a meeting with the right people. So if you have an email going back and forth, just give yourself a moment. And if you have to resolve a possible conflict, choose the ground wisely.

A Quick Tip:

Have a quick mental check about the purpose of your email, your relation with the receiver/audience and anticipate the experience of the reader. This will help in creating the right tone and select the appropriate language.

 “If you believe business is built on relationships, make building them your business” – Scott Stratter

 Till we meet next,

Keep smiling