Have you ever sent an email and immediately wanted to take it back? Who hasn’t! We can churn out emails at such lightening speed, it’s easy to write something that accidentally offends someone or is easily misunderstood. Emailing feels almost like a conversation, but we lack the emotional signs and social cues of face-to-face or phone interactions. If there’s any challenging content to convey—and if you’re sending it out to more than one person—it’s easy for problems to arise. Also, when we senselessly send too many messages to too many people, it clogs up everyone’s inboxes. Some companies are taking steps to encourage more conscious emailing, and asking people to try a routine like this for important email messages.
1. Compose an email. (Try using the Enter key more. Shorter paragraphs are easier to read on screens.)
2. Stop, and enjoy a long deep breath. Put your hands in front of you and wiggle your fingers to give them a little break. Now, lace your fingers together and place them behind your head. Lean back and give your neck a little rest. Now you’re in a good position for the next step.
3. Think of the person, or people, who are going to receive the message. How are they reacting? How do you want them to react? Do they get what you’re saying? Should you simplify it some? Could they misunderstand you and become angry or offended, or think you’re being more positive than you intend when you’re trying to say no or offer honest feedback?
If there’s a power dynamic (for example, you are writing to somebody who works for you or who reports to you), you need to take into account how that affects the message. A suggestion coming from a superior in an email can easily sound like an order.
4. Look the email over again and make some changes.
A few guidelines:
- Some messages are just too touchy, nuanced, or complex to handle by email. You may have to deliver the message in person, where you can read cues and have some give and take. Then, you can follow up with a message that reiterates whatever came out of the conversation.
- Fewer words usually leads to more clarity and greater impact. Your message can easily get lost in the clutter.
- If there’s emotional content, pay close attention to how the shaping of the words can create a tone. If you have bursts of short sentences, for example, it can sound like you’re being brusque and angry.
5. Don’t send your email right away. Leave it as a draft, compose some other messages or do something else, and then come back to it.
6. Take one last look, press send, and wish yourself good luck.