We’ve all heard the statement, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Never is that more important than in a business email.
I imagine most women reading this article are nodding their heads, as am I, because we’ve totally blown that advice a time or two. Usually with our worst client, the one who whines and demands and never gives us the information we’ve asked for a half-dozen times so that we can complete the job and get them off our back! When I worked in Public Relations, I quickly learned that the tone of an email can be very subtle. Just a few word choices and sentence structures can either be well received by a client…or totally raise their hackles.
For example, let’s imagine you are working on brochure copy for client John Smith’s engineering firm. You’ve had a meeting with him to outline the content and he’s provided you with most of it. But you need just one piece, details about the firm’s bridge projects, to complete the brochure. You’ve left him a voicemail and sent a quick reminder email, with no response to either.
So you send a second reminder email. You can make it work for you, or against you.
Here’s the wrong way:
Mr. Smith, I wanted to update you on the progress of the brochure. It’s getting close to being finished but you haven’t sent me the information you promised on the bridges. If you want me to complete the brochure by our agreed upon deadline, please send that information immediately.
Ouch! If I was Mr. Smith, I’d be thinking that my PR firm is comprised of demanding and egotistical employees. In that email you have managed to make it seem as though John Smith is lazy and has totally screwed up your workload.
Here’s a better way:
Mr. Smith, I wanted to let you know that the brochure on your engineering firm (be specific) is nearing completion. We (you are part of a company, not a one-woman show) believe you will be pleased with the copy we have written to highlight all the firm’s great services and projects (be complimentary). We are on track to complete the brochure copy by your requested deadline. The only information we’re missing (puts the focus on you and not his failure to provide the information) is the details on your bridge projects; I look forward to receiving that information and giving you a first draft to review. We’re grateful (show gratitude) you chose us to do this project for your firm.
You can still be seriously frustrated with Mr. Smith. But he won’t know it in your email. A tone that is kind, complimentary, focused and shows attention to detail and responsibility for the job on your end is much more likely to get the desired response. And it reflects well on you as an individual, instead of poorly.
Think about it this way, too: if your boss saw the email, what would he or she say? Remember, you are representing that person and the entire firm when you write any email to any client for any reason. If a client is wrong or abusive, that certainly needs to be brought to the boss’s attention. But if the email is routine correspondence, you will always win if you take an extra few minutes to craft a professionally written note versus a short one that may seem harsh to the person reading it on the other end.
“It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”
Here are a few additional tips:
1. Never use all capitals—it signifies you are shouting.
2. Do not use abbreviations (you can ROTFL later) or emojis.
3. Unless the topic is complicated, be brief. People are busy and want you to get right to the point of the message.
4. Always use the words “please” and “thank you.” Be polite and respectful.
5. Respond to every single email you receive, even if it’s just to say, “Thank you.”
6. Write a concise and to-the-point subject line.
7. Before you hit SEND, proofread and edit for spelling errors, to make sure you included all the necessary information, and for tone. If you are ever unsure about an email, have a coworker or boss look it over before sending.
8. Always include a professional signature block that contains your name and position (if your company uses titles), company name, phone number(s) and email address.
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