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Don’t Send That Email Just Yet! Pause and Read Our Blog! (Helpful Email Tips)

By Kristin Rhodes posted 03-25-2024 09:55

  

Please enjoy this blog post co-authored by Kristin Rhodes, Director of Practice Management, Paul Hastings LLP and Mike Ertel, Practice Innovation and Knowledge Attorney, Paul Hastings LLP.

“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Written over 350 years ago by French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal—who surely never envisioned how e-mail would simplify instantaneous communication across oceans, yet his concept rings more true today than ever before.

In business, emails significantly impact our relationships and how we get things done, yet we often take their daily usage for granted. On the positive side, emails allow us to get things done quickly, and concisely, and move projects forward. On the negative side, they can ruin relationships through a simple misuse of CC or BCC, or even by a well-intended tone gone wrong.

The authors are colleagues at a law firm who work on interdepartmental projects and have recognized a few key indicators of effective (and ineffective) communication and want to share tips based on their experiences.

Benefits of Emails
Emails provide an easy way to communicate quickly, help people avoid misunderstandings, clarify intentions, save time, project professionalism, build relationships, and enhance credibility. Use an email if you want to get something done quickly, clearly, have it memorialized, and (maybe) reach multiple people at once.

Given all these benefits, why not use email all the time? And why are they tricky?

Emails are Nonverbal
As far back as the late 1800s, Charles Darwin wrote about the expressions of emotions in humans and since then, the issue has been the subject of significant research and numerous peer-reviewed articles. In basic terms, communication is not just the words used, but everything else surrounding the delivery of those words.

In face-to-face communication, nonverbal communication may include facial expressions, gestures, body language, eye contact, appearance, and much more.

In emails, nonverbal communication may include USING ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, over punctuating your text!!! Or even your pre-conceived feelings toward the person delivering the message—for example, they are nice, or they are [insert your favorite word for “not nice”]!

Some literature suggests that 60 – 65% of communication is non-verbal, some say 70%, and some say as high as 93%. This post will not address the merits of the specific percentages, because they all illustrate that much of the way the receiver obtains information is more than simply the words used. Accordingly, this presents limitations for email communications.
 
Email vs. Other Forms of Communication
Sometimes email is not the preferable form of communication, especially when a conflict requires resolution. Without nonverbal cues, email tone, and message intention, emails may be misinterpreted and may not provide the best method for reaching a resolution.
 
Sometimes it’s just better to meet in person, have a video call, or even have a phone call.
 
When you should consider communication by a method other than Email:


• When you don’t want or need a record.
• When you already have an established relationship with someone (if this is a new relationship, best practice to introduce yourself via video or in person first). Okay to send email to set up the introduction.
• When a concept needs to be workshopped rather than explained (UNLESS you send the email to tee up the questions first).
• When you need to resolve a conflict.

Be Clear and Concise
Use the 5-second rule when drafting an email. If the reader cannot understand the general point and ask of the email within 5 seconds, you need to revise. Here are some tips to consider:

• State your question, deadline, and/or key takeaway upfront.
• Provide progressively more detail further down the email—the reader can chose to read details only if interested but they will not miss the point of the your email.
• Limit paragraphs to only 2-4 sentences. No block text.
• Use Bold, Underlining, and Highlighting to underscore key points. 
• Spend time to remove extraneous words or redundant sentences. 
• Read your email out loud to catch any odd phrasing.
 
Once you have drafted the email, consider the remaining mechanics.

Subject and Address Lines
Subject lines matter! People get hundreds of emails a day, don’t leave them guessing. If you really need someone’s attention, consider using a call to action or a question in the header. Do not shy away from changing the subject line as the email chain progresses. 
 
For the TO Line: only include those people who are required to read the email.
 
For the CC Line: include anyone who might need visibility into the process or who you think might feel left out.
 
For the BCC Line: include anyone who needs visibility but who might pose a problem on the CC line. For example, if you have to provide critical feedback to a colleague and loop in their boss.
 
If you are emailing a large number of people so that the group membership isn’t clear, indicate the name of the audience in the first line of the email. For example, if you have to contact 20 people who signed up for your Mad Hatters club, write To: All Participants of the Mad Hatters Club as the first line.
 
A more recent trick we have seen is using the @ symbol to call out individuals in a large group email.  For example, if you need to call out an individual in a group email, try starting a sentence with “@John, please let us know…” 

All of these points will get you a well-written and effective email. This last section covers the most difficult part—Tone—and how not to offend people while getting your point across.

Tone
Tone is tricky and personal. Here are a few things to consider.

Your reader will read your email with their pre-conceived notion of your voice, which may not be the nice, neutral one you intended. Particularly for emails to more senior people or those who you don’t interact with frequently, review your Email carefully with that in mind. Or if you are trying to get someone to do something or agree with you, think about whether they have all the context that you have. Don’t assume they know why you are asking or telling them something.
 
We talked about how concise writing is the best. But anything too terse will have tone issues.

How to soften your email:


• Add a nice intro sentence (“I hope all is well!” “How was your weekend?” etc.)
• Add a few exclamation points (but not so many that you appear crazy)
• End with gratitude (“Appreciate you taking a look at this.” “Thanks so much for your time!” or “Thanks!” (if you haven’t used up all your exclamation points yet!!!)) 
• Consider removing adjectives.  

In Conclusion
While much of this is common sense, we sometimes forget to be mindful about what we are doing when we write emails. Emails are critical in our daily business lives and relationships, so it’s good to have a few reminders in one place.
 What are your dos and don’ts? Would love to see your tips in the chat!


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Comments

04-01-2024 08:20

Yes, love bullets! Can't write an email without them now.

03-27-2024 11:16

I agree with these tips!  I often employ the use of numbered or bulletized lists to assist with clarity, especially when providing a lot of detail or context.  They make it easier for the reader to consume and, when necessary, respond to the information.