2 – Check your tone
Internal business communications and client or partner-facing emails should be respectful, clear, and follow the same tone regardless of the situation. According to Psychology Today author and psychologist specializing in threat management, David F. Swink, “In face-to-face communication, we rely heavily on non-verbal information like facial expression, body posture, gestures, and voice tone to interpret and predict other people’s behavior.” Because email eliminates the need to engage in live, real-time emotional responses, people begin to read tone into emails based on punctuation, syntax, and format. Swink continues, “without these important non-verbal cues, our imaginations fill in the blanks of what the person sending the message intended, and how they felt about the communication.” Intriguingly, he notes that people usually fill in those blanks with negative intentions which can “lead to misunderstanding, damaged relationships, and poor business decisions.”
The best way to avoid any conflict regarding the context of email communication is to carefully manage the tone of your communications at the start of your relationship with the recipient. Frequent changes in tone and reactionary writing can easily distract from the intent of the email and create a very different and difficult situation. While everyone’s tone is slightly different, we recommend that all communication remains easy-to-read with concise sentences. Avoid using frivolous punctuation and formatting such as ellipses, multiple exclamation points (especially in negative situations), using all capital letters, excessive bolding or highlighting, and use of pictures or gifs (unless relevant to your content).
In short, stay aware and don’t throw any curve balls. If you notice patterns such as lagging response time, short or passive aggressive responses, or no response at all, review your writing style. Swink suggests you should “Compose your email recognizing that the receiver may not be in the same mood or emotional state as you. Try to imagine how the person receiving the email could interpret it.” Improving your tone is a simple and effective way to build professional relationships. In the same vein, if your business partners and coworkers are used to a certain tone and format and they are positive and responsive, stick with it. Even if you are responding to a negative situation, write your initial email, step away, and come back to it later. Re-read and amend your content and punctuation. If you are unsure, have a neutral third party review your email and provide feedback. It may sound time-consuming and you may want to make your point, but once an email is sent, you cannot take it back.