Let’s talk about one of the biggest problems that people overlook with email communication – the lack of energy. Your energy is derived from your personality and your mood in any given moment. You can feel your own energy in your body, your face, your stance, even in the way you’re breathing. Your energy in a face to face or even a phone call is easily picked up on by the other person and it influences the outcome.
Email is a completely different type of communication – it’s stripped of energy, stripped of the unspoken signs people rely on to get the full picture of what you’re trying to communicate. I always tell people when it comes to email it is not about your intent, it’s about the mood of the person who is reading it. If they’re in a bad mood, and there is the slightest chance they could misinterpret it – that is exactly what they will do.
I had a situation once with a client who only wanted to use email to discuss business. This was difficult for me, because I am a phone person. I need to hear the energy of the other person in their voice. At one point in our working relationship, she sent me an email that said, “Well, if you look at our agreement, you’ll see …” Any guesses as to how I took that? In my world, when someone starts to reference the contract, that means that the relationship has gotten very strained.
I didn’t like the tone I perceived from the email and certainly didn’t like the way I was feeling about working with her. I started to write her back, as neutrally as I could. But then I stopped and asked my husband to read it. He said, “Well, it will be clear to her that you’re not pleased with the situation.” I thought about what he said, and what I was really trying to convey, and I sat on the email for a few hours.
It was gnawing at me. I am not good at leaving things unresolved. I decided that the only way for me to truly communicate effectively and not damage the relationship further was to pick up the phone. So I did and I was so glad I did.
The intent I read was not at all what she was trying to convey. It seems so obvious in hindsight (doesn’t everything?); we were from different industries, different geographic regions and had different communication styles. We were bound to get tripped up. But it only took one phone call and we not only got things back on track, we also improved our understanding of each other work preferences and inevitably the results of the project.
If you’re someone who always wants to use email but finds that some times your message doesn’t come across quite the way you intended it, my suggestion is to pick up the phone. Even if you just leave a voicemail saying that you sent an email with a full explanation of the situation, the tone and energy in your voice will help the reader of the email understand where you’re coming from and give them better clues to interpret your written message.
Write to me – tell me what you think. I promise not to misinterpret it.