I love it when my cod theories and philosophies receive official sanction and that’s what it felt like when I read an interview in The Times with Erica Dhawan last week. She is a leading expert on “connectional intelligence” (do I need to tell you she’s American?) and she has laid out the ground rules for better email communication. She cites the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in claiming that the “tone” of our emails is misinterpreted 50 per cent of the time. That’s a lot of miscommunication given that 70 per cent of our interactions these days are digital or virtual.
Many of her tips felt like the things I’ve said here before, so here are the highlights:
● Don’t mark emails as “urgent” when they aren’t.
● Emails longer than five sentences are often skimmed — for something that requires more detail, make a phone call or have a meeting. Break long messages into two parts. Use bullet points, subheadings, white space, highlights and bold text to make them scannable.
● If an email chain continues for more than a few rounds, the subject line is dominated by “Re:”s and “Fwd:”s. Delete and replace with a relevant subject line.
● Mirror your boss’s digital body language — if they are formal, follow suit.
● Always re-read your messages at least once before sending them, checking for grammatical errors and clarity.
● If you need a response, but don’t want to be a nag, amend the subject line to clarify that the email is a follow-up request and not a new task.
● Don’t over-apologise (Hope I’m not bothering you . . .) if you want to appear confident and don’t use hedging language. (Probably; I’m not sure, but . . . )
● Likewise, avoid excessive flattery or subservience: I know you have a lot on your plate .
● In a professional setting, try to write in complete sentences. Abbreviations are acceptable, but the shorthand, emojis and exaggerated punctuation you might use in a text can be inappropriate in emails.
You can read the full interview here.