Now that we have seen the key things to do with email let’s learn about things that we shouldn’t do. When we talk in person, both our body language and vocal variation support our words.
When we talk on a call, only vocal variation supports our words. But when we send an email, it’s just words. Hence, we need to be careful while writing emails.
Please follow the following four rules:
Don’t use words with connotations:
First of all, We want you to be clear on the choice of words. Unlike speaking, a word in an email does not carry body language or voice modulation with it. It only carries the purest meaning. The meaning of connotation is an idea or feeling, which a word invokes for a person in addition to its literal or primary meaning.
Words can have a proper literal meaning but give a totally different feeling. For example, the literal meaning of the word “escalation” is just a rise or move to the next level.
However, watch what happens when you use the word as follows:
The requirements are not clear. The business partner was not able to answer this. Hence the business analyst escalated the queries to the business head.
When you look at the above email example and see the word “escalated,” the first feeling you get is that something is wrong here. But if you look closely, there is nothing wrong. Escalated is used in a literal way. However, we know that escalation has become an unofficial lingo that conveys, “You are screwed.”
Hence it is a bad idea to use the word escalated even with positive intent. Rather, “sent” is a better word, as shown below.
The requirements are not clear. The business partner was not able to answer this. Hence the business analyst sent the queries to the business head. Thanks”
After writing your email, just skim it once. If you feel that any part can lead to multiple interpretations, change the words so that there can be only one interpretation.
Don’t write do-or-die words:
Sometimes, there are instances where you need to say NO or push back your work. For example, if you don’t have time to add a new feature in two weeks and you are supposed to convey that, then don’t write, “It cannot be done in two weeks.” Such a reply becomes offensive, and you end up hurting egos. When egos flare-up, the whole work environment goes down the drain.
Instead of directly saying NO, add reasons along with an indirect NO. Something like the following is always a better response:
It will be really difficult to pursue this feature. Since we will be risking the quality of the product, we will not be able to complete the testing within the two-week time frame.
Don’t assume the complexity or priority for the reader:
Let’s say there is a code release tonight. To make a go or no-go decision, we want to get inputs from the enterprise release team. If the task only takes a few minutes, should we write?
Can you please let us know the timing for install downtime? It might only take a minute.
If I write that, Tom will be thinking, “Who the heck is he to tell me how long it will take?”
We don’t know how many such tasks Tom has, or if there is anything critical going on. Don’t write that they should work on your task because it takes less time to complete or it is easy to do. There is a better way.
Always write why you need it quickly and by when you need it (ETA). A better way to rewrite the above example is,
Can you please get back on this by today 4 p.m.? We have a release scheduled for tonight. Your inputs are critical for us to make a decision on go or no-go.
Don’t write when you are upset
We get upset when we feel negative emotions. Negative emotions are intoxicating like alcohol. They can influence you to do things that you do not intend to do. You might use some really hard or foul words that can go very bad against you. And that’s disastrous.
I agree that you can’t be cool all the time. There are times when you might get emotional. Even if you are right and the other person is wrong, never write anything negative in an email. It’s a big NO.
If you are not able to control your emotions, move out of your cubicle. I can’t emphasize this enough. Never, ever sit in your cubicle when you feel negative. Make an excuse and go home. Have a beer. Watch TV. Call your friend or girlfriend. Settle down. Think it through and regroup. Never write anything in an email that will show you as aggressive or negative. Email is more than a communication medium. Email is a storage and retrieval medium as well.
All our documents can collect dust but not our emails. Within a flash of a minute, anyone involved in your project or company can retrieve an email you wrote a few years ago. It’ll act as documentation and proof of your behavior. If there is an email that proves you were aggressive or hostile, people can use it against you anytime later as well.