According to my wholly unofficial poll, emails are more likely to be misinterpreted than any other form of business communication. The writer dashes off a friendly note, but the reader perceives an abrupt tone. You soften the message with a smiley face, and I think “What a flake.”
Here are some guidelines for friendly but professional emails:
- Say hello, but don’t get chatty. Pretend it’s a business call. You would greet me, but you wouldn’t ask if I was enjoying the spring weather.
- Don’t start with a name. When I see “Deborah:”, I assume I’m going to be lectured or instructed.
- Break out the positive language. Don’t go over the top. I recently got a direct mail piece that said, “We were unbelievably excited to see you at the conference!” But let me know you care.
- Don’t free-associate. Repetition and long sentences might sound endearing on the phone, but they look disorganized on the page.
- It’s OK to be a little informal. Avoid stilted language and phrases like “As per our conversation, the attached …”
- Don’t get personal. Ever. Imagine your email on the gigantic screen in Times Square, and make sure it won’t embarrass you if the whole world read it.
Deborah Gaines is a business writer and former law firm CMO who blogs as The Corporate Writer.