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Business Emails – Impression Management

Dear Reader,

Email communication matters. A lot. To show this, just count up the amount of time you spend reading or responding to emails over a 5-day period. One organization did something similar and found that the amount of time each employee spent on email accounted for an average of $15,200 of their yearly salary, representing $152 million/year in wages! So we know it takes up a (sometimes frustratingly) large part of our day, but there’s much more to it than that…

When people speak face-to-face we subconsciously rely on nonverbal cues that let us know if the other person is engaged/excited/bored/etc. Our reliance on these kinds of cues is not a bad thing though- it provides us with a way to gauge how our message is coming across so that we can adapt and change our strategy. For example, let’s say you are going through new-hire orientation with a new employee who is eager to impress. When you get to report-writing, you explain the multi-tiered feedback and revision process and notice that her eyes ‘glaze over’ and her face droops a bit. You intuitively understand that she’s either confused or concerned by the process and re-iterate, possibly even showing examples of a reports that have been commented on and revised. Remember, this employee is brand new and eager to impress, so she might not have asked for clarification and would not have received it had you not picked up on her nonverbal cues.

We have all heard the statistic that 70-90% of our communication happens nonverbally. While that is a hard thing to really evaluate, other studies have shown that heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety, and frustration levels increase in the absence of face-to-face contact when trying to communicate! On the flipside, people reading emails tend to “fill in the gaps” and either try to read between the lines or project their own thoughts and fears into the message.

Whether you like it or not, email is (and will be) a large part of our working lives now and well into the future. The best we can do is educate our employees about communication (verbal, non-verbal, and email) and suggest a few guidelines that will make reading, writing, and understanding emails much more simple and less time consuming (which, given the statistic above, could save your organization a lot of money!).  Below is a perfect example of a set of guidelines that will work to save time, confusion, and productivity.

Writing Professional Emails that Will Get a Response

  • Begin with a clear goal/purpose.  Identify the purpose up front and craft the email around it
      • Avoid:  Multiple purposes or messages in a single email
  • Lead with a greeting.  Remember your audience and always use the first line to greet them by name
      • Avoid:  Using informal greetings like “Yo” or “Hey” for clients or bosses
  • Keep it brief, straightforward, clear.  First line should always explain the reason for the email, and specific request(s) should be at the end
      • Avoid:  Writing multiple paragraphs with requests or questions scattered throughout- chances are you won’t get what you need
  • Use bullet points.  Using bullet points to convey details, questions, or requests make them easier to respond to
      • Avoid:  Not using bullet points. Seriously!  I put them in every email
  • Read through when finished.  Read your email aloud (it really helps ID awkward sentences) and check for spelling and grammar
      • Avoid:  Clicking “send” the second you finish typing
  • Use a closing block.  Can include a statement (e.g., “Sincerely”), name, position, and phone #.  These can be easily added in your email’s settings
      • Avoid:  “Peace out!  -R”
  • Put purpose in subject bar.  Just a few quick words that summarize the single purpose of your email (e.g., “Question about yesterday’s meeting”)
      • Avoid:  Irrelevant subject bars, or especially ones that say “Forward me to 20 people and you will find true love”

There are plenty more email do’s and don’ts out there, but I like these seven because they are focused on structure, brevity, and professionalism.  Writing such emails not only communicates to others that you respect their time, but you are also much more likely to get a response in a timely manner.  The biggest takeaways are:  One purpose per email and keep them short and sweet!

If you would like to learn more or share this information, click here for a printable and more complete reference guide that outlines these best practices & common mistakes (and more!)

Happy Emailing,


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