At the beginning of 2015, The Fearey Group moved offices and did a complete redesign of our workspace in the process. We went from private doored offices to an open, collaborative floor plan. We increased our technology infrastructure, worked on our message and created new tools in the process. And we did this for many good reasons, but such a drastic change was made possible in part by the way communication in our industry — and many modern industries — has changed. The privacy of our old offices was largely the result of most of our business being conducted over the phone.
Now we live at the mercy of the written word. While it brings many advantages, including speed, efficiency, and continuity, it has its drawbacks. What I’m focusing on now is not so much a drawback as it is an added layer of responsibility. The written word forces us to be better communicators. No longer can we rely on our natural verbal gifts of inflection, tone, and timing — not to mention visual cues like facial expression and body language — to ensure our message is delivered as intended and received without confusion. Written communication means we’ve got to get our message right with our pens (or laptops) alone.
We’ve all struggled with it. People take us the wrong way, miss the point, even get their feelings hurt. How does ending a sentence with a simple period make you seem grumpy? Must we riddle our emails with exclamation points to convey enthusiasm? Is using all caps really the same as yelling? In this business of communication, a clear message is everything, and it’s the responsibility of the sender to remove all doubt from the message. If our audience gets the wrong message it’s not because they misinterpreted it, it’s because we didn’t do our job. It’s the same with person-to-person interaction.
Here are four tips to help send it right the first time:
- Spend an extra few minutes on your email. Is all the information there? Just because every detail is crystal clear in your head doesn’t mean it’s obvious to anyone else. Pretend you’re going in cold. Sometimes it’s helpful to write a draft and sit on it for ten minutes before reading it again, tweaking it a little and hitting ‘send’. The time you lose is better for your relationship than the potential confusion caused by rushing.
- Spend an extra moment to reread any previous messages in the thread. It’s very frustrating to feel like you haven’t been heard or asked to repeat yourself. Before you fire off your response, make sure you’re understanding the other person as well as you can.
- Think about your audience. Through the magic of empathy, we tend to alter our mannerisms slightly depending on who we’re speaking with. It’s a natural bonding measure and it gets completely lost when we are churning through our inboxes. Take a moment to imagine the person you’re communicating with and get in the ‘zone’ with them. Trust me, it will help ensure your message hits its mark
- And finally, setup a 60-second delay in your email box. You can simply do this as a rule in your rule bar. It’ll save you from sending erroneous emails – trust me!
Like everyone, I get frustrated with the ongoing back and forth of digital business communication from time to time. That’s why we now use Slack and text to communicate in the office. And why we’re using Basecamp to manage communications with clients. Save email for the long-form letter, like it was intended to be. But we know email is here to stay –so our best hope for improving it is to simply get better at it.