As the advent of geographically dispersed teams becomes more prevalent in the workplace, we are relying more than ever on non-verbal electronic communications. Email, instant messaging, texting are mediums we use more and more every day. As I’ve commented at length in previous posts, effective communications are the lifeblood of any successful project. With the increased reliance on written communications we are more at risk of our messages being misinterpreted and causing unnecessary issues. Here are three tips to crafting and reading solid written communications.
Take Emotion Out of the Message
So many times I’ve witnessed individuals getting worked up over a written message received (a text, an email, an IM) where emotion has been artificially implied by the receiver. So often our current frame of mind can skew our assessment of a message and make us reply in a fashion that we typically wouldn’t if we were in a different headspace. For example, if you’ve just been dealing with a difficult team member and are feeling stressed when you read an email from a client asking why your team is late on a deliverable, you are more likely to respond in a frantic, stressed manner that may incite conflict out of nothing. Take emotion out of the message, both in your interpretation of an incoming message as well as when you are crafting your messages. Chances are if you intend to put emotion into a message, it should be delivered either verbally or in person rather than over email.
I’d say this goes without saying but I’ve read enough emails and IM’s where being concise was not top of mind for the writer. People are busy, as you are as well – being efficient with your messages is not always easy but is almost always appreciated. Don’t write a novel when a paragraph will do. Chances are if you have to say that much, you should probably be picking up the phone and voicing your position. A great percentage of the messages we send are one-dimensional, in that there’s usually only one stream of thought or one topic that needs to be communicated. Stay focused, communicate the message, indicate your needs and that’s it.
Avoid the Long Thread
I hope this one resonates with a lot of you out there. How many times have you been cc’d on the endless emails where each person takes a turn writing a paragraph and it takes others significant time to catch up by having to scroll through (what seems like) pages and pages of commentary where the topic shifts. My general rule of thumb is that if an email message has to make the rounds more than twice, a phone call should be made to close out the discussion (with documented notes afterwards reflecting whatever decisions are made). And do everyone a favor and stop adding someone new to a mile-long thread with just the letters “FYI”. I’ve gotten to a point in my career where if I receive an email with a long thread and just those letters, I won’t read it – I will reply to the sender for a synopsis and what is needed of me exactly.
Written communications, and especially email communications, can be a challenge to get right, both for the sender and the receiver. Those who do it right typically enjoy less self-inflicted issues or conflicts than those who can’t. Following these three tips won’t make you an email guru but it will set you on the path for more effective communications.