Email gets a bad rap. Many of us view it as a tedious distraction from our more important work. And I certainly understand the feeling. When I’m on a tight deadline, the last thing I want is to peek at an inbox that’s bolded with a million different requests for attention.
When I think about why my inbox causes stress, I realize that it’s not the amount of emails or the time it takes to respond to each one, it’s fear about what each will say. Will it be a client dismissing my last round of work with one hastily composed sentence? Or will it be a blunt demand to do a project cheaper and faster than what I estimated? Will it be someone repeating questions that I’ve already answered?
Emails like these raise my blood pressure and ensure that subsequent emails from the same people will trigger dread instead of interest. On the flip side, if I receive emails from people who I know take the time to frame their feedback, requests and questions respectfully, then I feel calm resolve instead of anxiety.
Even though email can be time-consuming, it’s important to be kind, respectful and professional in your approach. Whether you are hiring someone or delivering a service, your written tone sets the stage for how smooth or difficult your project will be.
When you talk on the phone or meet people in person, your words are not the only way to make an impression. Your voice, timing and receptiveness to someone’s energy all add nuance to live communications. With email, your words stand alone, so you have to choose them especially carefully.
Here are a few examples of how similar emails can either be pleasant or annoying to receive depending on how they’re written.
Example #1: New project inquiry, introduction or request for help
I found your website online. I need a designer to help me create a website for some of my clients. If you’re interested, you can schedule a time to talk with this link.
Hello, you were recommended to me by a friend, and your style is what I’m looking for! I’m a brand strategist, and I help entrepreneurs think through their businesses and create brands that reflect their personalities. I’m expanding my services to include website development, so I’m looking for a designer to partner with who can help me create unique websites.
Is this something you’d be interested in? If so, I’d love to set up at me to chat. Let me know when you’re free for a phone call. Thank you, and I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
Inquiry A is impersonal. Brevity is fine once context has been established, but as an initial inquiry this reads as aggressively vague. The language is so generic that I don’t know whether this person wants to hire me specifically, or is just looking for any old designer. The invitation to connect has an entitled tone. Why should I be excited to setup a call with someone who I barely know anything about?
Inquiry B may not be as lean, but it’s specific, and therefore saves us both time and energy in the long run. This person told me a little bit about herself and has taken the time to find out about me. This gets me curious and excited about the job.
Conclusion: Even in cases when you’re the one hiring, your tone matters. Treat the people you hire as partners instead of servants or apps. People do their best work for those who value what they do and show it.
Example #2: Giving feedback or negotiating
I’m not feeling any of these logos. Can you try again?
Thanks for the different concepts! While I like the color in option 1 and the font in option 2, I don’t think either icon is quite right. Can you try something that is a little more delicate and feminine? I’ve attached a few visual examples of what I mean by that. Does that make sense?
Let me know if you want to discuss any of this feedback over the phone.
Dissatisfied client A doesn’t acknowledge the effort that I put into the work, and thinks that I can just come up with another round without her thinking through the specifics. The feedback is a dead end, and doesn’t give me anything to move forward with.
Dissatisfied, but still collaborative client B is appreciative of my effort and she finds one or two things that I can build on. Then, she offers direction on how I can improve the work, and even better, she includes a few examples of what she means.
Conclusion: When you’re asking someone to rework, reassess or redo something, be respectful of the time they’ve spent up to this point. Provide specific alternatives and leave the door open for a conversation.
As with any interaction, remember the golden rule: write the kinds of emails that you wouldn’t mind receiving yourself.
If you expect a response when you send out an email, respond to your emails consistently. If you value succinct emails over rambling ones, take the time to make your emails as brief and as efficient as possible. Also remember that basic etiquette is a part of being efficient. If you prefer friendly questions over blunt demands, craft your requests with that distinction in mind.
If all of the emails we received were carefully considered, our inboxes would be pleasant spaces and not emotional drains.
Now over to you, how is your relationship with your email? Do you have any tips for making your inbox a more happy, friendly place to be? Share any insights or ideas in the comments!