How often do you use Email to communicate?
Ever got stuck in a less than constructive way of communicating?
Ever found the dynamic very hard to shift?
Alongside my work with Aspire, I co-run a theatre company with 3 women. We write, produce and perform political cabaret shows. I have worked with these wonderful women for 7 years and let’s just say, we know each other very well.
Sometimes we say/do/write things to each other that are reactive, unthinking and occasionally damaging. That’s right. Even a communications skills trainer.
However, we recently changed one vital aspect of the way we communicate which has hugely improved the efficacy and ease of our day to day working relationships…
If you’re anything like me, anywhere up to 80% of the communication when at my desk is via email. It’s easy, it’s quick, it’s (supposed to be) non-confrontational. Let’s be honest; rather than stare into the whites of someone’s eyes it can often feel more straightforward, and less painful, to ping them quick email.
An Email problem
The problem is, how much attention do we pay the way we are emailing?
How did you even learn to write business emails? By getting on and writing them probably, and over time you’ve found your own style – influenced perhaps by your personality, your role models, your company culture.
One trendy eco company I know of insists their people all use multiple happy emojis in their emails to up the ‘friendliness and energy’ of their communication – I was in for a shock when these people weren’t quite so friendly in real life :(:(:(
And so it seems to take more than a smiley face to ‘mind the gap’ between our intention and the impact we have.
As my cabaret colleagues and I have found. It’s hard to be mindful of our impact when we are facing pressure due to lack of Arts funding, or because of limited time together that could be spent rehearsing, or because of the assumptions we’ve already made about each other’s intent.
We all face pressures like these at work and yet if we’re not putting our conscious attention on what we write, our emails can often end up confusing, overly long, emotionally loaded, purposeless, or downright inflammatory.
The Ball Game
In our communication skills courses at Aspire we sometimes run an experiential exercise with a ball where we ask people to throw it and catch it at pace. Scary for some! People become very intent on catching it as well as possible. Then after a while, we change the focus.
We ask the person throwing the ball to take the responsibility for each receiver to catch it.
Imagine for a second that you are playing the game; how would that change the way you throw the ball?
People start to slow down, make better eye contact, use people’s names – they start to throw the ball thinking about the way the person catching it needs it to be thrown. Instead of wondering why people fail to catch their throw, they become more conscious of their contributing actions and more accountable.
They realise that the way the message is delivered is as important as the message itself.
To check how you are throwing your ball when emailing, ask yourself these questions before hitting send:
- Is your email creating the impression of you that you want?
- Is it likely to achieve the outcome you need?
- Is it minimizing the gap between the message you need to send and how the message is likely to be received?
Seven Handy Tips
The Ruby Dolls and I came up with these handy 7 tips for managing the gap between your message and the way it lands. Try them out and see how you get on minding the the email gap!
What is your intention – your desired outcome?
Have this in mind as you write. Decide on the main points you want to communicate – no more than 5, ideally 3! Check with yourself – should this actually be a phone call or a meeting instead?
Who do you need to copy in and why?
How will that land with the recipient?
Be brief, succinct and clear
Use short sentences and bullet points to help this. Remember your email is just one in a queue – it won’t have people’s undivided attention like you might have face to face. So make it as easy as possible for others to understand your intention.
Are you emotionally charged when writing?
How easily can you see other people’s point of view? If not so easily right now, take some time out and come back to it later when you can see the situation more objectively. Understanding someone else’s point of view is the quickest way to build trust, confidence and ultimately get them to see where you are coming from!
Consciously choose your tone and language
How collaborative do you want to be? How directive? Choose the appropriate language. Are you citing opinion or fact? Be clear with yourself and your recipient when you are using which. And is the tone positive? We’ve all heard of radiators who emit warmth and drains who suck energy away – which do you want to be known as?
Emphasise what you need people to do
How do you want people to think, feel or act as a result of the email. Give your email, and its recipient, a clear purpose.
Read it through completely before sending
At least once. How could it better reflect your intention?