Originally featured on allbrightcollective.com by: Christina Quaine
Illustration by Maria Sagun
How can you ensure your digital dispatches hit the spot, every single time? Careers expert, Harriet Minter, shares her tips on tone and language.
Get this: 2021 marks 50 years since the first ever email was sent. Who knew? With home working continuing for the foreseeable future, we’re tethered to our inboxes more than ever, but how can we ensure our emails hit the spot? And could the way in which we compose our emails, including our language and tone, make much difference to our careers?
According to Harriet Minter, journalist, career coach and author of WFH: How To Build A Career You Love When You’re Not In The Office (Greenfinch, £14.99), “we should be writing our emails from a place of confidence”. Here, Harriet shares her insights on getting your message across successfully.
Brevity is great, but not at the expense of clarity
Sure, email was created to be quick and brief, but your message should always be clear. When you've written an email, go back and read it through. As you do, ask yourself, “If I didn't know what I was trying to say, if I was reading this for the first time, would I be completely clear on this?” Sometimes, when you write reams and reams, you might look at the email and realise you haven’t got your message across. So clarity is the most important thing.
Find your tone and be consistent
I believe it doesn't really matter how you write, but it does matter that you repeat your tone so that people come to know and understand you. For instance, I’m someone who loves an exclamation mark. I'll always put them in emails while other people hate them. I like to include greetings such as “How are you?” or “Hope you’re well”. You’re warming up for the next sentence.
Does my email language need to be more assertive?
I say “sorry to bother you” or “would you mind...” in my emails all the time. I don't think it's terrible to use those phrases. To me, they feel polite and kind, which is never a bad thing. We need more softness and gentleness in our working world.
If you’re writing an email that feels a bit scary, that's the time to go back and read through what you've written. Ask yourself whether your nerves have come through in your words. If they have, you might want to adjust your tone. Rather than writing your email from a place of fear, it’s better to step away from your computer, put on your ‘walk on’ song, dance around the room, then sit down and write it from a place of confidence. You'll write a clearer, firmer, more concise email that’s more ‘you’.
When it comes to discussing money in an email, you need to get to the point. If you’re a freelancer, state your rate, then put a full stop. It can be tempting to add something like, “Does that fit with your budget?” or “This is my rate, would that work for you?” But it’s more effective to state your rate and leave it there. If a potential client is offering you less than you would usually charge, you can say something along the lines of “It’s a really interesting job. My standard rate for it is £__. Can you get to that? Or can you move towards that?” Then see what they say.
Got a problem? Edit out your emotions
When you’re emailing about something tricky or confrontational – for example, an issue with a colleague that you want to discuss with your boss - take out all the emotion. As a rule, don't write anything that you wouldn't be happy to have read out loud to the entire organisation while you were standing on a desk and everyone was watching you. That can be difficult. You need to be clear and unemotional, and stick to the facts. Request a chat and then try to have that conversation verbally.
Maximise your email signature
Firstly, does your email signature tell the recipient who you are and what you do? Is it giving them useful information? Are you showing your value? I include my social channels in my signature because, as a freelancer, part of my job is promoting myself. If you work for a company, that may not be necessary. There isn’t a hard and fast rule. If you've won an award, talk about that in your email signature. If you’re writing a paper that you want people to read, include a link. All these ways allow people to engage with you as a person.
Secondly, use your email signature to help others understand your working patterns. I believe that the more we work from home, the more we will create a 24-hour culture, unless we take assertive action to set clear boundaries. Part of that action is giving details in your email signature about your working pattern. For instance: “My working hours are 8am-3pm and I respond to emails during that time.” It is OK to say that. If people know you're not going to be available until a certain time, most of the time they will be fine to wait.
Create alliances through email
When you're working from home, how do you make connections with people in your business that you otherwise might not be able to? Your boss's boss, your boss's peers, people who are senior to you, but who you don't necessarily report directly to? One way of forging those relationships is through email chat. For instance, if you see something that someone has done which you think is really great, send them an email telling them so and that you’d love to help next time. It’s about using email to build connections with people you might not otherwise know.
And finally, assume the best
When reading an email, always assume that the person on the other side of that email means the best. Assume that it's been written in a tone that's productive, generous, helpful, even if, when you read it, that's not how it feels. Because when you do that, the likelihood is that you will then respond with a tone that is productive, generous and helpful. So, even if that email comes over and the person who has sent it has done so in a bad mood, if you go back with a tone that feels like it's trying to be helpful and accommodating, it kind of takes the wind out of their sails.