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If email is your primary voice, be sure you don’t suck at it

"Don't type to me in that tone!"
“Don’t type to me in that tone!”

Technology. Internet. Communication. These words have been touted as synonymous. But are they? Answer this question:

Where is your daily word count highest?

a) Words spoken in face to face conversations

b) Words spoken on the phone

c) Words written in emails

Mine is by far c) – but is this actually “communication”? I doubt if the Dalai Lama considered email messaging “important to our well-being and happiness” when it comes to interaction and consideration of others. But there’s no getting around it today; we DO much of our communication via email, and these written messages are an extension of our character, like it or not. In business, what you write in an email can very well set the tone for your working relationship.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen master and best-selling author of The Art of Communicating, reveals how to listen mindfully and ‘express your fullest and most authentic self’. He describes the Internet as an item for consumption, full of nutrients that are both healing and toxic. “When you work with your computer for three or four hours, you are totally lost. It’s like eating French fries. You shouldn’t eat French fries all day and you shouldn’t be on the computer all day.” Not sure of the latter; but he’s the zen dude with the knowledge.  What does make sense is his emphasis on being mindful of what we write, and this is especially true when we use email as our primary method of conversation.

1. The written word. Careful how and when you ‘say’ it

Have you ever tried to interject humor in an email and failed? I have a sarcastic, dry wit (aka ‘a bitch with a smile’), and I find I can’t help but try to brighten someone’s day when they read my emails. Recently, a colleague and I were ‘threading’ about business, but somewhat lightheartedly. We have a close enough relationship that we have dropped the “dear sir or madam” verbiage and keep it simple, yet professional. The LOLs were getting thrown around like Valley Girl “likes” of yore, and at one point, I threw in a cute little zinger, followed by “You KNOW I’m kidding, right?” Note to self: Add the “kidding” disclaimer prior to zinger…”

The response was filled with UPPER CASE yelling and exclamation points, as well as my birth name inserted where ‘hey girlfriend!” used to go. Lesson learned. After a few more exchanges and explanation, we resumed our banter, but the tension was clearly between the lines.  She was angry at my comment, joke excuse or not; and I was miffed that she didn’t read my entire email. – Ok, that’s pure ego in that I feel everything I write is worth reading through to the end – you still with me?

2. Boring emails get boring responses.

Email communication is an art. What makes a great email? BE YOURSELF.  If you sent me an anonymous email, would I know it was from you? That might be tough, but you get the point. If your client knows you, don’t confuse them by trying to impress them with inane comments. No cutesy. And use proper sentence structure. A capital letter is required at the beginning a sentence.  If your content is typed in ALL CAPS, it’s clear you aren’t angry, just lazy. And if you don’t ever use three syllable words in conversation, avoid them if possible. Don’t be known as the Thesaurus Emailer.

Reply All Email

3. Think before you email

If your first approach to a potential client is an electronic introduction, chances are you will be ‘trashed’ for the interruption. Call and ask if you may email them first. If you are following up after a meeting, or a business transaction “hey dude, thanks for lunch” is not a promising response; unless you are Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. And you are not. Ever. He’s fictional.  And LOOK at your TO: line – nothing worse then hitting “Reply All” when a personal response was in order. “Did you read Mary’s email? How the hell is she in management?” She’s the boss because she has learned the art of emailing the entire staff figuring one of them will ‘reply all’ and expose their ignorance and dislike for her. It’s a skill.

 4. Maybe a follow-up phone call instead of email

I’ve noticed more of my clients/business associates are calling me following a recent email I had sent. I appreciate the time saved from the back-to-back written exchange; not to mention waiting for a reply; expediting any resolve needed or questions asked. If I’m not sure, I will ask during our email exchange if I can call – ‘is this a good time to call you?’ Hard to say no; they clearly have time to email, right? Then, following the conversation, the follow-up email will have more meaning, value and the potential to close the deal.

5. Mix it up

Since email is by far my bullhorn of choice, I think I shall attempt to rebuild my spoken talents, and “OK Google” my contact list more, actually calling to speak and hear the conversation. There are no tonal inclinations or variants in email, and sometimes UPPER CASE is just an errant cap-lock function. It makes sense, too, to use my mobile device for what it pretends to be; a PHONE. These days, my Inbox is so ridiculously full, (I currently have over 3,000 emails), that even my ‘flagged items’ warrant no special attention.

Technology, Internet and communication might not have the same meanings; but they certainly have a symbiotic relationship.  My 30-day goal: to answer the above question with both b) and c); and continue to hone my art of communication as Hanh prescribes: less Fries, more healthy conversations.


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