We’re creative professionals, which means we’ve got creative temperaments. Which means emails can be useful for getting business done or stressful when they escalate into back and forths that eat up our time. So, here are some initial thoughts on ways to make email exchanges productive. Any other ideas?
Use the SEND LATER button.
Just because an email comes in at 12:07 doesn’t mean we have to respond by 12:08, or even 1:08. Let’s take the time to put an email aside and look back at it later, both the ones we read and the ones we write. We might find something that comes across in a way we didn’t mean, or we might be more able to filter out (or ignore) angry statements.
Acknowledge that words have power.
We may think we are just stating facts. But the language that we use can affect how those facts are perceived, and of course, we all have our own set of facts. Certain words have weight. Let’s avoid trigger words. This also applies to how we read emails, too. If someone hits our particular buttons, let’s just ignore it. Hard to do, but sometimes necessary.
Do not assume anyone else’s intent.
Creative women are good at analyzing human nature and other people’s motivations. Let’s do this in phone calls or over coffee, not in emails. “You said that because you want to (fill in verb) or because you are (fill in adjective here). “ In fact, any sentence that begins with “You” should be carefully vetted. Probably deleted. We can express our dissatisfaction, outrage, and disapproval of others’ actions without resorting to name calling or assuming that we know why someone else said or did what they did wrong (even though we probably do know).
Take responsibility for your own mistakes and forgive others theirs.
Use the phone.
Let’s call the person up to clarify. Clarity is not a strength of email. Studies show that people are FAR more likely to misinterpret tone in emails as negative than in a phone call or face to face. In other words, people assume we are being sarcastic or nasty in an email even though the words might be perfectly reasonable. Use email for things you WANT on the record forever, like visuals that can’t be explained on the phone, or for quick information.
Keep it short.
Any email that has to be scrolled down repeatedly is too long. It’s that simple. If you can’t write what you need to say succinctly, use the phone. To try your hand at being pithy: Open a Twitter account. Enter the Flash fiction contests Pikes Peak and Boca are running right now.
David Shipley and Will Schwalbe’s Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do it Better is a great resource.