7 Tips for Effective Email Messaging for Women In The Workplace
Stop. Wait a minute.
Don’t text. Don’t email. Don’t leave a voice message. If you are not able to check, recheck and remove all emotion from your business messages, do not, I repeat, do not, press send.
If we have learned anything as women in the workplace in 2016, it’s that emails live forever. And emails can cause a lot of problems—end a career, harm a relationship, spill a secret, get you into legal trouble. So as a prudent leader in control of her career growth, treat emails carefully.
Yes, emails have transformed our work lives, simplified global communication and brought teams together with documents and information. They can also be hacked – more than 1 billion Yahoo email accounts were hacked recently– and personal information and company secrets spilled. If you use your work email account for personal reasons, you can also get fired.
At the very least, instant messaging in all forms for men and women in the workplace has created access in real time that never really turns off. So as effective women leaders, we need to know how to manage the messaging onslaught in the best ways possible whether that is by email, text or voicemail.
“The Internet has revolutionized the way we do business — but has also contributed to an ‘always-on’ work culture, with some workers feeling pressured into taking their work home with them and replying to emails late into the night,” writes Rob Price in Business Insider.
There is so much pressure globally for workers and entrepreneurs to be perpetually accessible that a new law this month in France makes it possible for workers to unplug.
“French workers are being offered a “right to disconnect” that will let them ignore email outside of working hours, according to a report from AFP,” Price writes.
Even without a law on your side that says you do not have to answer a co-worker, boss or client in the middle of the night or over the weekend, it’s a good idea to keep some of these tips in mind.
Adhering to smart messaging etiquette for successful women in the workplace allows you the freedom to say what you mean and mean what you say. If you are careful, there can be no reading between the lines that may get you into trouble.
Jocelyn Glei’s new book, “Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done,” is a handy guide, and the author explains to Business Insider her top tips for effective messaging.
“Most emails get opened for the first time on a mobile device. And a message that looks fine on a laptop might look epic — in a bad way — on a phone. So test it out before you send anything to a busy or important person. ‘You always have to take into account that someone will be processing that message on-the-go, in an impatient state, at a glance,’ Glei said. That means you need to ‘be concise and to get right to the point.’”
Some experts suggest skipping email altogether as it is less efficient than other options.
“While it might seem counterintuitive, IM is less intrusive than email. Employees don’t need to constantly check their inboxes, which often leads to distractions and workflow interruptions, “writes Stephan J. Cico, managing director, All Covered Pittsburgh, IT services from Konica Minolta, in Smart Business.
Still, most people in business communicate by email or text and it is universally vexing.
“More people ask me about email management than about any other aspect of their online lives: whether it’s the challenge of coping with an overwhelming amount of email, or figuring out how email fits into the overall flow of our daily work, most people have some kind of email pain point,” writes Alexandra Samuel, author of Work Smarter with Social Media, in Harvard Business Review.
As an editor for many years, a former university professor and the owner of five separate email accounts, I have learned the hard way on some of these suggestions. I have also been subjected to thousands and thousands of email and texting atrocities, so I am sharing my knowledge.
Grammar and spell check. Your reputation can be harmed by an ill-placed modifier and also a misspelled word. Don’t send so hastily that you don’t check quickly. Read aloud to see if it sounds like it flows. Keep it simple. You are not Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison. You are sending a simple message.
No exclamation points. You are not a middle schooler expressing how much you loved the slumber party!! So don’t diminish your credibility by adding in the punctuation that should only precede the words, “fire” and “help.”
Read it over to see if there is any way it can be misunderstood. I try for the “thank you sandwich” with an expression of gratitude for the email I am responding to and ending with a thanks for following up or even reading the email. In between, keep it short and simple. No emotion. Answer the questions. Don’t write anything that can be taken out of context, misquoted or used against you. You do not want to be misinterpreted.
Don’t trim so much you seem impatient. I thought I had progressed to the point with one coworker to achieve a shorthand and so I eliminated all the niceties. I answered with “yup” and “sure.” Sometimes “nope,” or “can’t.” I thought I was being efficient. I had no idea – until later—that it was interpreted as dismissive and condescending.
Never respond instantly. If you answer within a very few minutes, it looks as if you are doing nothing and are always open to answering emails in real time. You also do not want to set a precedent, so people expect a response in 30 seconds. And if an email makes you upset, you for sure want to do a walk around the office, maybe the block, until you can answer calmly.
Skip the texting lingo. If you are texting a response, still exert a sense of pseudo-formality and write full words. Thanks instead of thx. No ICYMI. You do not want to appear so casual you seem careless. For sure no emojis in a business message.
Bounce the message off a co-worker or close friend first. If you are sending a sensitive email and something in your gut says it might be a little harsh, call a close friend and read it aloud. Better safe than sorry.
And to round out the tips, here are some lines to avoid in your emails and messages, excerpted in Business Management from “Four Email Subject Lines That Make Everyone Hate You,” by Sara McCord writing in Fast Company.
“’Just checking to make sure you didn’t forget.’ You may think you’re being helpful, but the recipient may think you’re insulting their email management, organization or professionalism.”
“’I’m resending this in case my email went to spam.’ While you’re trying to be nice, the recipient interprets it as ‘Why haven’t you responded?’ Chances are if previous emails made it to the person successfully, so did your last one.”
“’I know you’re super busy.’ Again, said with the best of intentions because you’re acknowledging how much recipients have on their plate. However, you’re asking the person to put your needs first, and that is unreasonable.”
I need to heed these suggestions, as I receive close to 500 emails per day on all my accounts. That is way more than was predicted for each person to receive by next year in a 2014 News.com story.
“By 2018, 97 emails will hit the inboxes each day, at an average of 12 emails every working hour. It is expected 43 emails will be sent each day, at an average of five an hour, or one about every 10 minutes.”
But we all know we don’t have to answer each one immediately.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com