Nonverbal Communication

Tips for More Effective Email Communication

8 Tips for Better Email Communications

I have a love-hate relationship with email. On the amorous side, email makes business communication fast and much easier than the days of fax machines and overnight shipments of documents and disks. The unsexy side of email is that’s it is overused and abused, causing miscommunication to run amok.

Here are some tips to help make sure the communications we send through email are productive and efficient.

1. Remember the Human

That’s right. Every email you send will be read and interpreted by another human being. One who will read your words through their own lens — applying their personal filters to what they are reading, and assigning emotion to your words without the benefit of seeing or hearing you. 

Ask yourself, “How can I ensure this email comes across as I intend it to?” If the answer is that you can’t, pick up the phone or make a video call instead. 

2. Use Email for Email, Not for Chat

One-line emails say a lot. Nonverbally, they can quicky communicate the following:

  • I’m angry with you
  • You’re not worthy of the time it takes to compose a fully formed message

When you’re in Slack or Teams, or even text messaging on your phone, short messages are expected. Plus, these systems leverage emojis and animated gifs to help lighten up messages that could be construed as terse or angry. 

When you have more to say, use email — and keep it professional. Say hello (not “Hey”), compose your message, and close it with a signoff. Treat it like a letter but keep it short and use bullets to help people read the message quickly. Chances are that if you’re writing a feature article length email, you need a meeting instead.

When you are just zipping out a one-line message, use chat. And feel free to be more casual (but still professional).

3. Use the Subject Line Well

If you want your email to be read, don’t be generic in your subject line. Use it to preview the key message or action item inside the digital envelope, and also to help your recipient find it later in a sea of flagged messages. For example, instead of a subject that reads, “Opinion?”, you could say, “Input Needed Today on Final Design Concept”. The former is ambiguous. The latter is specific and helpful to the recipient.

4. CC Everyone (No, Please Don’t)

Try your best to send the email “To” one person — the one who is supposed to fully read it and take action. If there is more than one person who needs to take action, then by all means include any others in the “To” field.

Reserve the CC field for people who need to know what’s going on but are neither expected to take action nor respond. Also, ask yourself if everyone in the CC field really needs to be included. 

5. Use “Reply All” Sparingly 

If you and your team are more careful to avoid overusing the CC field by being more conscious of who really needs to be included in an email, then you should naturally use the “Reply All” feature less often. 

Before you Reply All, stop and think, “Does everyone on this chain really need to see my reply?” If the answer is “No,” then consider only replying to the people who need to be included. 

Now, if you’re using reply all to cover your butt due to a toxic culture, that’s a whole different problem that this article can’t solve. 

6. Proofread

Emails that are full of errors will damage your professional credibility. Slow down, take a breath, and re-read your emails before hitting Send.

7. Avoid Angry Mail

I’ve written and sent a few emails when I’ve been angry. Each one ranks high on my list of least professional moments during my 25-year career. 

When you’re angry, take a step back. Don’t respond right away. 

I actually find that writing out a draft response helps me get my thoughts together. I compose it in Word or some other program to ensure it never actually gets sent. Once I’ve settled down, I pick up the phone or schedule a face to face conversation to talk with the other party.

And if that can’t happen, I edit my Angry Mail message down to something supportive and factual, remembering not to put anything in my response that I would not be fine seeing on a billboard with my name on it.

8. Set Expectations for Response Times

This last tip is even more important with remote work because it’s harder to pop in on a colleague to check in. Be sure people know what kind of turnaround time they can expect from you when it comes to responding to email. This way they know when they need to follow-up with you, if at all. 

I respond to all emails from colleagues and clients within 24 hours — and they know that. If I can’t respond fully within that time, I still respond with a confirmation of receipt and a timeframe that they can plan on. For example:

Hi Julie,

Thanks for sending me the workshop plan for next week’s session. I won’t be able to fully review it today but will be sure to have it back in your hands by mid-day Thursday. 

Michael

Julie now knows I received the email and did not miss it, and when she can expect to hear back from me with the completed action item.

It’s All About Helping Each Other

Remember that emails, and chat and text messages for that matter, are stripped of much of the nuance we get from more robust ways of communicating like face to face conversations. When we have the benefit of nonverbal communication like tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language we can more easily assign meaning to the messages we are receiving. 

When it comes to email, we all need to take the extra time to help set each other up for success.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Better Nonverbal Feedback in Zoom

Zoom Nonverbal Communication Features

Many people don’t know about the enhanced nonverbal feedback feature in Zoom (which is off by default). By enabling this feature, you and your participants get an extra set of icons in the participants box. This allows your meeting attendees to raise their hands, answer yes or no questions, ask for a coffee break, and more! 

I like these nonverbal features more than the “Reactions” feature when I give workshops or conduct long meetings. I ensure my meeting participants know about them and I ask them to use them to communicate with me. For example, in my online workshops, I have several instances where I ask my attendees questions and direct them to answer me using the green and red yes and no icons. 

Using this feature along with the chat box helps me make my virtual meetings more engaging. It also helps me read the room more easily, which can be tough in the virtual setting.

Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash
You Matter - The Power of Thanks

The Power of a Sincere Thank You

With Thanksgiving behind us and the holiday rush upon us, things seem to be moving quite fast, don’t they? So much to do, so many people to see — lots of year-end things to take care of at work and at home…. 

In hectic times, it’s even more important to slow down, observe, and give thanks. When things are moving fast at home or it’s crunch time at work, the people you lead are also feeling the pressure. In fact, they are likely going the extra mile just like you to keep it together and avoid dropping one of the balls they have in the air.

Saying thank you, a sincere thank you, is a simple and powerful way to lift spirits, motivate, and empower. Look for opportunities to say it this holiday season — especially when you can say it with eye contact (or with a handwritten note) and back it up with the “why” behind your sentiments.

Don’t get me wrong, an email or text message that gives thanks is better than nothing. How about a thank you that comes with a smile and some supporting facts as to why what someone did made a difference to you? Now that’s a real gift.

Give the Gift of Your Attention

Give It. Get It.

We are bombarded with messages every day from brands, employers, clients, friends, and family members. With so much coming our way through our screens, it’s understandable that we begin to tune out the noise—anything that we don’t deem worthy of our attention. Yet attention is what you need when you want to teach, motive, or persuade.

But you won’t earn anyone’s full attention if you’re not willing to give them yours.

Here are 6 tips to help:

  1. Demonstrate your commitment to being present and in the moment by giving your full attention to others.
  2. Expect the attention of others in return, and kindly ask for it if you’re not getting it. A simple, “Let’s all focus on the task at hand without interruption” should send the message.
  3. Listen more and speak less.
  4. Listen to what’s not being said.
  5. Be open to a different perspective.
  6. Be clear, concise, direct, and kind in your responses.

Anything else we should add to this list? Tell me in the comments.

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Tips for Being Heard at Work

Be Heard

When we feel we aren’t being heard, a common reaction is to talk louder. Or interrupt. And if you’re an introvert, you might lean the other way and keep your comments to yourself instead of trying to share them with those who need to hear them. 

Your voice counts. Considering how your brain operates in certain situations as well as how the specific people you communicate with listen and process information will help you be heard, and more importantly, understood. 

Here are some tips:

  1. Let kindness lead the way. You can never go wrong by being kind, and doing so diffuses tension and helps others avoid feeling defensive. Even in the most difficult conversations, when you show the other person that you care, you make your communications more tailored to their needs—and more effective. 
  2. Read the room. If you have experience with the people in the room, you likely know how they operate. Some may just want the facts quickly while some may like to dive in deep and understand the background. Whenever possible, try to tailor your communications to the needs of the people in the room and give them what they need to be able to connect with, and understand, you.
  3. Listen now and speak later. If you can’t formulate the right response on the fly, give yourself the time you need to process everything and craft a response that you can feel good about. You can always have a second conversation later when you’ve gathered your thoughts, or send a follow-up message with your response after the heat of the moment has passed.
  4. Don’t hide or procrastinate. It’s easy to hide behind emails or text communication because you can lob your thoughts over the fence to get it off your shoulders/mind/plate and plop it in their court. Consider when you need a call, videoconference, or meeting to discuss a topic, move something forward right away, or put an issue to bed. 
  5. A good visual can make all the difference. Some people need a visual aid to help them grasp a concept. Consider when a topic might benefit from something people can see to help them connect the dots. This can be something you prepare beforehand, or a quick sketch you create on a whiteboard to help people grasp the idea.
  6. Sometimes you just can’t beat a blowhard. There are people who need to hear themselves talk and refuse to listen. Don’t try to win. Instead, figure out how you can slowly persuade them over the longer term. Share your perspective but don’t expect to convince them to agree with you today.
  7. Let others be heard. Listening is probably the most powerful tool you have in your communications toolbox. Everyone wants to feel that their voice matters. 

And don’t forget, most people never get thanked for the good work they do—and it means a lot when they do. Thank people for contributing and validate when you hear something that contributes to the conversation.

What else should we add to this list?

Photo by Headway on Unsplash
Listening to Nonverbal Communication

Listening With Your Eyes

What’s not said is sometimes more powerful than what is said. Some experts even suggest that nonverbal communication represents nearly two thirds of all communications. That’s a lot of messages that are largely available to your eyes (not to mention your other 4 senses).

That’s why I prefer to meet with people in person or through videoconference whenever possible. I am more effective at listening when I can see the people I’m speaking with. Their nonverbal communications give me much more insight into what I’m hearing and I can read more deeply into what is being said — which often gives me a better sense of where it’s coming from. And when I can see how they are reacting to what I’m saying, I can tailor my communications in real time to connect with them on a deeper level.

Speaking of being face to face with other people in real time, studies show that during social interactions people’s movements tend to become coordinated, which enhances rapport and fosters cooperation. Research also suggests that this “nonverbal synchrony” makes people more likely to successfully pursue joint goals. Interesting, right?

Think about a recent conversation you’ve had with someone through emails or text messages where the outcome wasn’t what you wanted or expected. Then think about how that conversation would have been different if you could have heard the other person’s voice or seen his or her facial expressions and body language.

Considering the value of nonverbal communication going forward will help you determine when a face-to-face meeting is in your favor.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash
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