Is Your Email Writing Style Putting You at Risk?

iStock Email Symbol Hanging from Hook_000038737958A few days ago I received a somewhat terse email inquiry about our REAL Program for Abrasive Leaders. The woman who wrote it stated that she has been told that she is an abrasive leader and would like to take steps to rectify this. Over a couple of email exchanges I was not surprised to find that her messages were extremely short and to the point, with no acknowledgement or thank-yous for the detailed information I provided and no salutation or sign-off at the end. One email started with a “hi”, and the other one with no opening at all. (These are the kind of seemingly-insignificant behaviours that fall within the range of workplace incivility.)

For reasons that I won’t go into here, it became clear that we would not be working together, so I decided to offer some unsolicited advice that I thought might be helpful: I mentioned that for my clients who are perceived as abrasive, their email writing style often contributes to the negative perceptions about them. I then invited her to review the emails she had written to me and ask herself how someone who reported to her would react when receiving messages in a similar style.

She responded immediately, posing a great question. So great, in fact, that I obtained her permission to write a blog post about it. Her question was:

“I was always told to keep emails specific and to the point. Should I not be doing that anymore? My work emails always end with thank you.”

And therein lies the dilemma that often gets my clients (and maybe you too?) into trouble: should you sacrifice the niceties in the service of efficiency and speed?

True, brief emails are great — they save time and get business done. And hey, who really needs all those thank-you-for-this and thank-you-for-that, or the have-a-good-weekend, or good-morning, or finally-a-bit-of-nice-weather or nice-salutation time wasters?

But if you are a manager, cutting all those out places you at a high risk of being perceived as abrasive. (This is equally true if you are not a manager, but the potential price you might pay is typically not as high.) When you are in a position of institutional power, people automatically watch you more closely. The absence of kindness or appreciation where a reasonable person would expect those will naturally lead to conclusions about you: you will be perceived as rude, harsh, unappreciative or dismissive. And unless you are exceptionally kind in your other practices, your email style will have a cumulative boomerang effect.

And by the way, habitually ending with a “thank you” doesn’t really cut it. People will view this as a rote and meaningless gesture. In fact, over time, it might become yet another strike against you (Can you hear the “oh yeah, he can’t even bother writing a personal thank-you, so now he has an auto-signature that does it for him”?) 

Before you know it, you’re labeled as the big bad bully boss. Now let’s see you work your way out of that hole.

So in your next email, just before you hit the Send button, ask yourself:

Am I inadvertently coming across as overly curt, detached, inconsiderate, abrasive or dismissive? And what do I need to add, change or delete in order to convey my human-ness?

As you know, I’m on your side and trying to keep you out of unnecessary trouble. In that vein, in an upcoming blog post I will discuss some of the variables you should consider if you want your emails to work for you rather than against you.


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Contact us anytime — I love hearing from you!

And take a look at the new Trust Your Canary civility accelerating tools HERE. (Access to this page will be soon available from our main home page.)

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After posting the above a few hours ago, I received the below wonderful email from one of you. I thought it’s worth sharing, for the benefit of any or all of you who are still optimistic about the integration of young folks into the workplace, worldwide. 

Dear Sharone,

I shared your note with a daughter of a good friend of mine, who started working in a big company in Sri Lanka just a couple of weeks ago. She is 23 years old and a recent graduate.

Almost immediately after I forwarded your note to her, I received the following reply from her. I was very pleased to note its contents and thought of sharing with you (of course with her permission).

“Dear aunty, thank you very much for sending me that article…It is just what I needed to hear at the moment! Since I joined this company I’ve been very cordial with my email writing. But after sometime I’ve started to wonder whether I’m just wasting my time adding all those polite words or whether others may perceive me as a time waster who got nothing much to do….But this article was an eye opener!!! Now I know there’s nothing wrong being polite. So thanks a bunch for sharing it with me. I love to read such articles which help me to improve myself…”

This entry was posted in Blog, Harassment, Leadership, Respectful Workplace, Workplace Incivility. Bookmark the permalink.


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