Improve Your Email and Phone Message

“Just as previous generations struggled to integrate first the telegraph and then the telephone into their lives, we’re struggling to integrate email into ours. We’re using it and overusing it and misusing it.”
David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home (Knopf, 2007)
Clear communication with people you know is challenging enough, but influencing those you’ve never met is even more difficult.
While face-to-face communication usually trumps other forms, email and phone messages have become de rigueur in our fast-paced world. But busy executives won’t respond if you fail to grab their attention, write persuasively and succinctly deliver your message.
Words, Sounds and Visuals
Your vocal quality (tone, volume, speed) and visuals (facial expressions, body language) tell people more about you than your actual words.
In 1967, UCLA Psychology Professor Albert Mehrabian, PhD, observed that we determine a message’s meaning from:
1. Visuals (55% of communication): Unfortunately, when you’re talking on the phone or sending an email, recipients lose access to visual cues that accompany what you’re saying. They can’t see how you look, and you can’t see how they’re responding.
2. Sounds (38%): Your voice conveys your emotional state, energy level and attitude. Any attempt at subtlety is risky in email or phone messages, as recipients cannot hear if you’re smiling, sarcastic or serious. Your words must explicitly state how you feel.
3. Words (7%): An email message is composed of words (although emoticons can convey certain feelings). This explains why so many emails are misinterpreted. Write clear emails, and review them before sending.
Understanding this communication breakdown will help you remember people’s sensory priorities. Words certainly matter, but not as much as you may have thought.

Phone Advantages

Telephone communication has certain benefits. Think of your conversations as small moments in time that can be used to shape perceptions.
How you greet people, respond to them, what you say and how you sound provide weighted impressions. Each exchange builds – or detracts from – the relationship. You’re actively shaping others’ opinions of you.
While you cannot use your face to convey intensity, interest or passion, you can verbalize your reactions (“Really!”or “Oh, I see…”). You can repeat words and phrases to let people know you’re hearing them. You can also take notes without appearing rude.

“At the Sound of the Tone …

Most people don’t think twice about how they leave voicemail. Instead of robotically repeating your name and number, provide a compelling reason for the person to call you back. Sales professionals are intimately familiar with this approach, but it works even when you’re not selling anything. Your job is to communicate why your call is important to the other person. (Be sure to include time parameters.)
Always be sincere and honest. Allay any fears, if necessary. Smile while talking to convey a positive attitude.
If people don’t return your calls, try leaving another message to reinforce why a response is needed. Tell them you’ll follow up with an email that contains additional information.
Remember that people are busy and focused on their own agendas. Be mindful of what’s important to them, state your intentions up front, and spell out why you’d like to get their attention.

Email Messages

The average corporate email user sends and receives about 105 messages per day, according to a May 2011 study by The Radicati Group, Inc., a technology market research firm. About 19% of received messages are flagged as spam.
This sheer quantity has eclipsed email’s chief advantages: speed and ease.
When you’re faced with answering 50-80 emails each day, you’re likely to cut to the chase, abbreviate and overlook social pleasantries.
With email, the normal visual, nonverbal and auditory signals are completely absent. Hastily written words can be misread or send the wrong message. Leave out an important word, and your meaning is garbled. Well-intended humor and sarcasm can easily misfire and spark a mini-war of words. Avoid this by adding emoticons to convey a smile or wink.
Email offers clarity and control. Your words can’t be edited by a receptionist or secretary. You can convey precise rules, principles and priorities.
Shipley and Schwalbe, authors of Send, apply the Golden Rule to email communication:

  • Think before you send.
  • Send email you would like to receive.

You can also strengthen your email messages with:

  1. Preplanning. Before typing a syllable, think about what you need to say, your intentions and expectations of the recipient
  2. Etiquette. Address the recipient by name, as you would in a letter. Open the body of the email by appealing to the recipient’s needs, and clearly state your intention.
  3. Brevity. Keep recipients’ needs in mind. Respect their busy schedules. An email isn’t the right vehicle for telling people about yourself, sharing a joke or being irreverent. It’s OK to adopt a friendly tone, but don’t waste people’s time. State your message, and request an appropriate response.
  4. Directions for action. Do you want a response? An opinion? The answer to a question? What do you want the recipient to do? Be concise and specific: “I will follow up with you by phone tomorrow so we can set up a meeting”or “Let me know when we can meet.”

Mastering Leadership Psychology

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mr. Rogers: Important Things to Remember (Hyperion, 2003)

Whether you’re starting out, changing jobs mid-career or completing your last decade of work, leadership success depends on how well you manage yourself and interact with others.
Mastering leadership psychology is crucial for professional development. What got you here won’t get you there. Success depends on knowing, appreciating and accepting who you are.
You can turn deficits into strengths when you understand them. You can play to these strengths and avoid their inherent traps with sufficient self-knowledge and support from the right people.
Effective leaders also use psychology to understand and motivate others. As you ascend to positions of greater power and responsibility, you’ll increasingly rely on social and emotional intelligence.
A rapidly changing business environment will pose numerous challenges:

  • An increased workload as markets become more complex
  • Situations that require political savvy and exemplary interpersonal skills
  • Time and energy management
  • Unprecedented pressure and stressors
  • An increasingly diverse global workforce
  • Rapidly evolving products and services
  • Unpredictable market changes
  • Technological advances

Whether you work in manufacturing, retail or services, your understanding of human psychology will drive optimal business outcomes.
This article examines three essential psychology skills that every leader must master.

Psychology Skill #1:

Know Yourself Well

“Knowing yourself, and knowing the forces that affect the people who work for you, holds the key to being a successful leader.”
Kenneth M. Settel, MD, Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, CEO Psychology: Who Rises, Who Falls and Why (RosettaBooks, 2012)

The very character traits that peg you as a high-potential leader may also prevent you from making it to the finish line. Every strength has a downside when carried to the extreme. Self-awareness can prevent self-sabotage.
You probably have a sense of your personal talents and liabilities. Learning how to leverage them at work – amplifying your strengths, while minimizing your weaknesses – sets the stage for good interpersonal relationships. You’ll become less vulnerable and sensitive to criticism. You’ll also learn more about your leadership constitution:

  • Do you have the drive, personality and desire necessary to shouldering executive responsibilities?
  • Can you cope with the associated stressors and the job’s highs and lows?

Even the strongest, most talented leaders have flaws. Each of us is driven by conscious and unconscious forces that must be channeled into positive outcomes, so it’s important to seek personal development opportunities at every stage of your career. You won’t gain self-knowledge in a vacuum, so consider working with a mentor or experienced leadership coach.

Psychology Skill #2:

Lead through Engagement

“When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.'”
Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu (604-531 B.C.), Tao Te Ching

Engaged employees are 22% more productive, according to a new Gallup meta-analysis of 1.4 million employees. They also enjoy double the rate of success, lower absenteeism and turnover, and fewer safety incidents and quality defects.
In an engaged workforce, people want to come to work. They understand their jobs and appreciate how their specific responsibilities contribute to the organization’s overall success.
An effective leader builds integrated teams: knowledge “communities” whose members work together creatively to achieve the desired results. If you expect your people to back initiatives with focus and enthusiasm, develop five essential skills that Dr. Settel describes in his book:

  1. Maintain your focus. Don’t lose sight of your personal and organizational goals as you face the everyday onslaught of complex information and technology (yet another reason to retain an executive coach). Ask yourself: a. What are my guideposts? My first priorities? b. Am I sticking to my path, or am I getting distracted?
  2. Maintain your values and integrity: Regularly assess whether you’ve strayed from your personal and organizational values. Ask yourself:a. Am I keeping to principles and standards in spite of pressures and frustrations? b. Do I resist the lure of competition and greed?
  3. Effectively prioritize and allocate resources: Keep resources aligned with long-term goals and strategies. Strong voices, from inside and outside the organization, will place conflicting demands on you. Maintain a clear sense of what truly matters in the long run.
  4. Understand your people’s expectations: Subordinates have expectations from important parental figures, including their bosses. They count on your love, support and approval. Understanding these desires makes you a better leader, especially when expectations become irrational.
  5. Serve as a role model: Everything you say and do is magnified and interpreted, often in unintended ways. Your communication and behavior carry weight, influencing others. Employees want to know that you love your work and appreciate their contributions. They closely watch how you handle challenges and achievements, and they will mirror your behavior.

Ask yourself:

  • How am I engaging my staff?
  • Do the people who work for me appear happy, or do they frequently complain?
  • Do they always ask for more time, resources or money, or can they move forward with what’s provided?
  • Who is generating new ideas? Do I encourage employee participation in planning and strategizing?
  • Can people carry out tasks without direct supervision?
  • Am I sympathetic to, and supportive of, others? needs and concerns?
  • How resilient am I when faced with setbacks and obstacles? Do I allow my people to help me find creative solutions?
  • Am I generous with positive feedback? Do I frequently recognize progress?

Psychology Skill #3:

Manage Emotions

“In successful and emotionally balanced companies, the people working in them discuss things, no matter how bad things have gotten. They don’t run and hide, they don’t name call, and they don’t put their foot down. They’re willing and able to talk without rancor and in a straightforward manner about what is bothering them. I call this process ‘carefrontation.'”
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, “Carefrontation,” Office Solutions, Fall 2009

Each of us is an emotional being. For decades, business experts discouraged emotional expressions at work. These days, we know it’s impossible – and actually detrimental – to ignore or suppress them.
Awareness of emotions actually lends wisdom to our decisions and interactions. Emotional intelligence is now viewed as a hallmark of high-potential leaders.
We want to be liked, appreciated, rewarded and respected. We need friendships at work – some level of closeness and affection. We thrive when we have a work environment that allows us to safely express our opinions and feelings, including our aggressions.
If you expect your people to put aside their emotions and “just do the work,” you’re failing as a manager. Emotions are a fundamental part of what makes us humans, so you must be prepared to deal with, understand and accept them.
Regardless of your industry, you’ll encounter three common emotional needs at work:

  1. Attachment and connection: Some people’s social needs are minimal, while others are more pronounced. Some prefer to work alone, viewing social interactions as obstacles to productivity. At the other end of the continuum are people who never want to be alone. Be sensitive to people’s basic needs so you can place them in the right jobs and supervise them effectively.
  2. Dependency, independency and interdependency: People depend on others for approval, validation and love. Even when these needs are satisfied outside the workplace, people seek to satisfy them at work. A good leader is sensitive to how much direction and interaction each employee needs to thrive at work.
  3. Aggression, anger and conflict: Aggression is a primal human behavior. When properly harnessed, it can energize a team and be productively channeled into creative projects. That said, aggression can also be disruptive. Many people are embarrassed by, or uncomfortable with, anger – especially their own. It’s up to you to recognize the early signs of aggression and talk openly about people’s feelings. Channel it away from destruction and toward innovation.

“Being ‘carefrontational’ requires a willingness to take a risk and to be understanding of the person you’re talking to,” Dr. Goldsmith writes. “If you’re not willing to share something that is bothering you with your teammates, then your working relationship will be diminished.”

Debunking Old-School Beliefs

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Commonly held management assumptions are often wrong – particularly when they fail to address human nature.
Dr. Settel highlights the following counterintuitive truths that invalidate previously held business notions:

  1. Organizational conflict can be positive.
  2. Rewards and punishments may not effectively inspire employees to work harder or better.
  3. Stressed-out employees shouldn’t be given less work. Give them more gratifying work.
  4. Performance reviews can be destructive unless delivered in a development-focused, constructive way.
  5. Your unconscious mind drives you more powerfully than your conscious one does.
  6. Successful leadership is not about personality, but how you apply it.You needn’t hold a PhD in organizational behavior to understand people’s emotions. You do, however, require a rudimentary understanding of their psychological needs.