Emails are a pet peeve of mine. Not emails specifically—they’re necessary and beat the hell out of normal mail. But rather, the way most people write emails these days. The one thing to be said for Mad Men style correspondence (that is, phones and letters) is that you went to lengths to make sure you were understood. Now, we send emails with such reckless abandon that it’s like we’re all Pete Townsend and can afford to buy more guitars that we’re smashing into very expensive amps.
There’s been more than once that I’ve gotten an email in my mailbox that has launched me into a heightened sense of crippling anxiety. When a client has said something along the lines of, “No, this isn’t any good. It’s all wrong. There are so many problems with this.” And I know I’m not the only one who’s gotten this type of email. Especially with new relationships, when people don’t necessarily understand how people tend to communicate, these types of short, cutting messages can often make someone feel like they’ve really screwed up.
If they have really screwed up, then so be it. But in most of the situations I’ve been dealt, “this is all wrong” means “I don’t like one sentence in the third paragraph, can you fix it or take it out?”
With email, we’re so antsy to get an email sent off (because we’re all soooo busy) that we don’t take the time to clearly convey what it is what we’re trying to say. It’s easier to say, “There’s something wrong with this,” than to take the time to clearly explain the one small issue with it. Ultimately, it takes longer to go back and forth to iron out the situation than it would have to simply state the issue in the first place.
At some point in the past ten years, emoticons (and their predecessors, emoji) have become common ways to communicate. I mean, in a way I still don’t totally understand, tweeting a pizza emoji to Domino’s orders you a pizza. Cool, but…huh?
And we have now come to the point where emotive pictures are so expected from us that if an email is sent that doesn’t have one, we immediately jump to conclusions—or worry that the recipient will jump to conclusions.
We have forgotten that it’s possible to be short in an email (hey, we’re all sooo busy, right?) and make a simple request for something without leading the other person to believe we’re angry, or upset at being bothered. These assumptions lead to a breakdown of communication, which hurts office morale.
The next time you’re writing an email and you think what you’ve written might come off as snide or rude so you want to fix it with an emoti-whatever, think about how you can rewrite the sentence(s) without it. Think of it as an exercise in communication.
Quality Over Quantity
How many emails do you receive a day? There are some people who assure me they receive upwards of 80. EIGHTY. Subtract however many of those are newsletter subscriptions that never seem to go away no matter how many times you tell them, and that’s still probably five or six, right?
Again, I kid, but when we’re dealing with such a large mass of email, with so much back and forth because we refuse to be clear in our emails and instead opt to send short, one sentence blasts that don’t convey any answers and instead only muddy the waters even further, and it’s obvious the kinds of trouble that can cause in an office environment. Things get lost, things get accidentally deleted, and things never end up where they’re supposed to be.
When you’re about to email someone, make sure you’ve included all pertinent information, and that you’ve proofread it to make sure the whole thing makes sense in context before you hit the send button. Your office will thank you later.
Want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to write a better email? Download our Metonymy Media Desk Reference to master the basics of drafting up a good email (or anything else).