The way people strike us, the first impression they make, lingers long and often colours the relationship we have with them, if indeed we choose to have one with them at all. Even if our initial contact is through email, we still only get one chance to make a first impression, and seeing as though our image is communicated by our visuals, our behaviour, and our communication, it is in our best interest to be aware of how we express through the written, or unspoken word, and not just focus on the cut of our jackets – it all works together and it all reflects you.
Are you email aware?
I am usually in communication with new clients and business contacts through email. Because there is no facial expression or vocal tone in email, my message is actually quite limited, just cold typed words that could be taken out of context and/or completely misunderstood. My message must be concise and clear, and really should communicate a warm and pleasant message.
To convey clarity and pleasantness, take the time to proofread your email for grammar and sentence structure, and set up your mail program for automatic spell check upon sending. Remember, your email may be all people have to go on if you’ve not met in person, and if they see that you are a good communicator who respects the English language, chances are, you have just made a good impression on them. You don’t know what the person reading your email knows, and if they see that you can’t tell the difference between your, yore, and you’re, you may not get the interview/job/date.
For this week’s post, I met with Kathryn Preston, vocal communication coach at So To Speak, and we talked at length about email communication.
“Be aware of who you’re writing to, and also be aware of the impact of your words,” she says.
This is wisdom. Think of it this way: if you receive an email that you perceive to have a negative or angry tone, and this triggers an equally negative emotional reaction in you, please stop, take a breath, and think about the repercussions of sending an angry response. Type it out if you have to right then and there, but DON’T SEND IT YET. Do something else for two minutes (or longer, hell, sleep on it if you can!), come back, read it again, and see where you’re at. REMINDER: your email is not a piece of evidence you can burn; digital correspondence is forever!!!
Emotionally charged punctuation
Dale Carnegie, the American writer and developer of self-improvement and interpersonal skills courses, said “Act enthusiastic and you will be enthusiastic.”
How does one convey enthusiasm through the written word? Punctuation of course! Think about the exclamation mark, for example. This character, this vertical line with a dot below it can be wonderful expression tool and I think says much about the character who uses it. I, for one, have an immediate reaction to exclamation marks and I like people who use them. I find the mark very uplifting and it gets me interested! But use the exclamation mark with caution – enthusiasm is often contagious and not always appropriate.
It goes without saying that exclamation marks should be used with discretion, sparingly, lightly peppering our writing. Exclamation marks are full of life and speak louder than most punctuation, but are not generally used in straight up professions like actuarial science, law, podiatry, or lexiconography, so do pay attention to your audience when punctuating your emails, not only composing them.
“Technology is a great tool,” Kathryn says, “but technology is not human communication. The tone of the verbal message is set by the tone of the voice and without it, we have no context.”
Because the tone is missing, it is hugely possible that the written word could be misinterpreted. Depending on the mental and emotional state of the reader, an email with pleasant intentions can be taken as negative, terse, or combative. (Has this ever happened to you? It has certainly happened to me. Miscommunication is often the root of relationship problems, personal and business.)
Keeping your language positive will help to avoid miscommunication and keep the tone positive. Kathryn suggests warming our emails by using positive language and choosing understanding and compassionate words instead of negative language that ridicules or criticizes, assumes knowledge, or attempts to induce guilt or shame (there is such a thing as communication bullying, you know!).
To further avoid negative tone, she adds, be more engaging in the email and use phrases like “feel free to comment”, make the message open instead of making a statement, and always keep the ball in your reader’s court and allow them to comment on the issue.
We have no control over what people communicate, but Kathryn explains that we always have a choice in the way we react to anything, in this case, email communication.
“Instead of deciding to take other’s words as negative or as criticism,” she says, “give the person credit for a positive intention.”
I agree with Kathryn. It makes everything better for everyone if we assume that the composer of the email smiled as they wrote to us, so that we may respond with a smile as we write back. A like attracts like sort of idea.
Kathryn reminded me that the sign off, or the farewell message in our email is our final word with lasting association. That idea made me think about something I’ve heard recently, that we may not remember the words a person used, but how they made us feel.
Mark Bowden, a communications specialist at Truth Plane Communications, often signs off his emails with different messages tailored to the tone of the message and the person he’s writing to, and I must say that keeping his email departures fresh and personal makes him memorable. Have a look at these examples he’s used in emails to me:
Best to you,
Very Best to You, Leah.
Dale Carnegie listed using a person’s name as one of his six ways to get people to like you in How to Win Friends and Influence People. (“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”) Mark’s last farewell on the list is of course the most appealing because he’s not only tailoring the sign off to me (or at least it seems that way from my perspective), he’s using my name, and gosh, I’m just tickled!
With a send off like that, Mark is transmitting good spirit and good will which leaves me a good feeling, and that is what I will recall when I next think of him. Nice association. You have the power to create a positive association too by being mindful of yourself and how you come across to others, even through electronic communication.
And with that, dear readers, I bid you adieu. Remember to assume a positive position when composing and reading emails and see what happens when you spread a little joy through the daily mail.
Leah Morrigan Image Consulting for Men
416 795 8234
Canada’s first female men’s image specialist, oft-quoted in the media, inspiring professionals, politicos, and everyday Joes to perceive themselves in a new light: confident, distinctive, and comfortable in their own skin.