Did you have a reaction to my command? Maybe – maybe not. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. But if we worked together and I emailed you that line, it might have triggered an emotion. When we send an email, we type the content of the message we mean to convey, but we can’t always capture the tone we intend. Our fingers quickly stroke the keyboard, hitting “send” as we tick off another email from our list. The recipient reads the email – and the words jump off the screen, potentially triggering a negative emotion.
This scenario doesn’t apply only to information that is necessary but not welcome. The daily e-mail flurry, the vast majority of which are informational or responsive, should carry no emotional impact. And yet, our haste to clear our inboxes combined with the lack of body language, tone, or facial expression may leave the reader feeling confused, diminished or attacked.
Digital communication has given license to circulate curt emails that can even carry an unintended abrasive tone. Many would not communicate in that manner on the phone or in person. As the gaps in physical contact widen, we become more susceptible to forgetting it’s a real person with feelings on the receiving end; people are nicer on the phone than in electronic mail and nicer in person than on the phone.
As companies transitioned to remote work last year due to the pandemic, our dependence on digital communication increased; employees couldn’t simply walk to a colleague’s desk. Instead, what would have been a brief in-person interaction was replaced by email, instant message or text. As direct human interaction decreased, human conflict increased. The negative impact of this in the workplace was amplified by the overall stressors people were experiencing in the wake of COVID.
In the current climate, organizations feel a heightened sense of urgency to provide employees with resources for managing stress. There’s no shortage of vendors offering virtual events that include yoga, meditation, fitness and cooking. All these deliver benefits to various constituents and I applaud companies who offer them. But the best remedy is to stop inflicting unnecessary stress on others!
“Digital communication has given license to circulate curt emails that can even carry an unintended abrasive tone. Many would not communicate in that manner on the phone or in person”
In the context of digital communication, here are some tips to consider in your daily correspondence.
• Recognize the tone of your email. The person on the receiving end doesn’t know that your teenager is screaming about the slow Internet connection, while your dog is barking at the Amazon delivery man. Before you send, take a moment to read as if you’re on the receiving end.
• Don’t send an email you wrote while angry or stressed. Take a breath. Wait until you’re calmer. You will most likely make some edits – or you may delete the entire email and start over.
• Ask someone you trust to read what you wrote. An objective third party can provide good insight on how someone may interpret your message.
• Be transparent about the intent of your email. Be honest upfront with what you’re trying to accomplish with your communication. If it’s a tough message that needs to be delivered in writing, acknowledge it’s a difficult email. While you can’t always avoid delivering tough messages, displaying empathy can help the reader be less defensive.
• Pick up the phone. Sounds easy in theory, but not so common in practice. Many people have participated in the back-and-forth email that escalates to an unnecessarily hostile tone. If the correspondence bounces back and forth more than twice without resolution, pick up the phone.
• Acknowledge the time it took to reply. You’re busy and took a while to reply. Acknowledge that it took longer to respond than intended. It shows respect and consideration for the other person’s time.
• Don’t write a dissertation. Unless there’s a legitimate need for a lengthy email, don’t write one that looks like you’re writing a book chapter. As my English teacher always said, use fewest number of words to convey a succinct message. People who write lengthy emails are often the worst offenders of not reading others’ emails. Stop telling and start listening.
• Say hi and thank you. Not every email needs a greeting - nor does it require a thank you. But if it’s Monday and you’re sending the first message of the week to a colleague, why not include “I hope you had a good weekend” or other ice breaker. That extra 30 seconds can go a long way. And a simple thank you can make a big difference.
I will leave you with this final message. Sometimes minor adjustments in our own actions can make a major difference in another person’s workday. Why not start now?
"The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Dine Brands or the United States"