Improve Your Email and Phone Message

  • 5 mins read

“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.”
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