Recently a client of mine passed on this e-mail to me; today, I share it with you as it was one of the most helpful things I had read this year. Let’s all aim to be better at e-mailing in this crazy, digital world so this whole country is more productive. And polite.
“We are all good at writing e-mails. There is a great section on professional e-mail writing in our comapny’s soft skills manual, but today, I wanted to share with you some more great advice. Some of the things that I have been learning over the years about e-mail writing are summarised succinctly in this diagram beneath which *Sarah shared with me this week. The diagram beneath really resonated with me. Enjoy it!
In our e-mails, we either play a subservient role, which can lead others to abuse us; or we can play a dictatorial role (which is not good either, except in very select circumstances); but what we need to play is an equal-counterpart role. Our clients are not above us, nor are they beneath us. Our suppliers are not beneath us, nor are they above us. We are all equals, keeping the economy moving forward as we exchange goods and services with one another. We partner with our client to get things done, and done well. We love and respect them. We serve them, but we are not subservient to them. Our language will tell them whether we see ourselves as equal partners or as puny conflict-averse grovelling weenies.
Language like: “I am so sorry…”, “I just”, “I probably…”, puts the power incorrectly in their hands.
Don’t say, “I am sorry for taking so long to respond”. Say, “Thank you for your patience”. In the former you are conferring a right on the person that they did not have. Your friend who Whatsapp’s you has no right to a swift response, let alone any response at all. So do not confer a right on them. Seize the opportunity instead to give praise and to imbue upon them an honourable characteristic, like acknowledging their wonderful patience. Do not miss the opportunity to compliment them, instead of berating yourself.
Dani, who created the helpful image above, writes:
‘When I was freelancing full-time, I noticed a direct correlation to how much money I was able to charge, and how unapologetic and direct I was in e-mails,” says Dani. She noted that the more calm and confident you are, the more respect you get from your clients. “When I over-apologised and constantly contradicted myself with “If not, that’s okay!”… some viewed it as weakness, and didn’t hesitate to use it to their advantage,” says the designer.
The designer also encourages people to be more direct and straight to the point when communicating in e-mails. “I always had a tendency to say “Hi John! I’ve attached a PDF with the first draft of the poster. Let me know what you think and if you have any edits!”,” says Dani. “Over the last couple of months, I started cutting out the phrases “first draft” and “edits” and say something along the lines of “Hi John! Excited to show you the poster design! I’ve attached the PDF for you to check out. Do you like the call to action right-aligned at the bottom, or would you prefer it centred? Happy to discuss any other feedback you may have as well.” It’s actually kind of insane how fewer rounds of revisions I get now. Being specific in any kind of feedback you’re looking for goes a long way as well. In my experience, the designer/client relationship starts to feel more like a partnership between equals.’
Dani proofreads every e-mail before sending it and many times ends up rewriting things, like deleting the many “just”s and “sorry’s” she adds.
Language like: “Don’t hesitate”, “Not a problem”, “No worries” is full of negative words even though the message is positive. Avoid those negative words!
Don’t say “Don’t hesitate to contact me.” Say “Feel free to contact me”.
I have also got into the habit of saying “I feel like we all write good e-mails”, instead of “We all write good e-mails”. There is nothing wrong with being bold. We do not need to water things down by making a subjective statement of an objective statement, which is what we do when we tag the words “I feel” in front of everything that we say.
Incorporating the points above will not make us rude. Quite to the contrary. When reading Dani’s e-mails above, she comes across as super friendly, enthusiastic and excited. She also comes across as confident. Her language subtly leads the audience to the outcome that she desires. Instead of saying “The first revision is attached.”, she says “The poster is attached”. This leads the audience to believe that the poster is more or less final and ready.
Imagine how many of our clients would ask for changes to our reports if every time *Sally sent out a report she said, “Please see attached the first draft – let us know if you would like any changes”. Lead your clients and suppliers towards the outcome that you desire. Say “Please find attached the report. We trust you will find it informative, and we would love to answer additional questions!”
Yours in confident, effective, outcomes-driven, enthusiastic e-mail writing,
And so ends the mail I received, with the three names changed for their online privacy’s sake. Really, really helpful to us all no doubt.