Reading email has a hidden danger: there’s no human emotion attached.  Consider the following sentence that could be contained in any average office exchange:

The customer doesn’t like the order and wants a refund.

Pretty straightforward, right?  Consider, though, that different people in your company may interpret the sentence.  A salesman might read this and assume this is criticism of his sales tactics: finalizing a sale that the customer ultimately rejects.  The business owner thinks the company is offering the wrong type of products and considers expanding the business to catch this type of customer later.  And the person who sent the email may be someone who processes refunds all the time, and sees this as “business as usual” with no real consequence.  Each person can take a positive, negative or neutral stance on the issue.

Not every reaction is one you planned.  (Photo Credit: Phil and Pam)

Reminding yourself that email does not convey tone or emotion is a good habit to get into.  A few other tips you can employ to make sure everyone on your email thread is on the same page as you:

  • Format your message to be readable.  Paragraphs are great for casual reading, but format goes a long way in getting your point across.  Use bullet points and lists where you need to talk about several items.  Headers and bolded points can work wonders as well.  Think about your audience and format appropriately.
  • No matter the message, make sure the action item is clear.  If your email contains information that is meant to be followed, make that the focus of your email.  If Bob should do X, make sure that’s the one thing he’ll take away, with the other points as supplementary details.  Reinforce your action items in a separate place, like through shared calendars and todo lists.
  • Don’t write an email while angry or upset.  For one, “typing angry” rarely comes across as professional.  Second, what you perceive as pointed criticism may come across as a mere rant, not to be taken seriously.  You should try to calm down first before proceeding.
  • Keep your persuasive emails short (and don’t rely on them to change minds).  When people send persuasive emails, they often come across as too long.  You don’t want to get caught up in a “TLDR” trap: Too Long, Didn’t Read.  If you’re passionate about something, use email as one of many mediums to get your point across.  To really convince minds though, you should schedule some face-to-face time with a decision maker to discuss the finer points of your argument.
If you have some tips to add to the least, please do so in the comments.  I’ve had my fair share of email miscommunication, and I’m always learning new ways to avoid future mistakes.


-Deborah Fike


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Google Plus