I think most of us are smart people. We know that lots of things are best done in person or over the phone rather than through an email conversation.
Things like getting something sorted when there’s confusion or tension or differing opinions or an issue to resolve, for example.
BUT, we also usually want a record of that discussion, so we do the “conversation follow up email.”
And that’s where we fuck things up.
Where do we go wrong?
You see, in conversation, we soften.
We use our natural, conversational voices, and we more naturally choose words that don’t inflame.
BUT. Sit down to write that email, turn on your writer switch and with it a level of formality you probably feel the conversation requires, and all of a sudden you’re doing damage to a situation you had just successfully resolved in person.
Let’s play this through
You’re a manager.
Your team is having some challenges with the way another team is providing information to them. You call the other manager. You know there’s a chance they’ll get defensive, and so you have a careful conversation, and voila – issues addressed, decisions made – resolved.
Now, the conversation follow up email, with your boss (who’s also Karen’s boss) cc’d.
There’s nothing inherently WRONG with that email. The words are not, on the surface, offensive words, But without the ease and reassurance of a conversational voice, it could absolutely cause you problems.
- Revive the tension that had dissipated during the phone call or conversation
- Undermine the way you navigated the tension in the conversation
- Lead Karen to think your record of events puts her team in a bad light, and have her feel she needs to correct the record or save face somehow.
HOW could it do those things?
Quite simply, since the conversation was naturally more careful, more diplomatic, the more formal tone of the email could be read as harsh or clinical or condescending or robotic.
FEEL, in this next example, how a conversational voice supports the good outcome of your personal conversation.
Human is always better. Personal is better than cold.
Our old idea of the “professional voice” is NO LONGER USEFUL to us. It causes problems.
How to write this email
The formula for accomplishing this is simple.
1. Make sure every word is a word you would say face to face or in a phone conversation. If you’d say hi, write hi, not hello. If you’d say thanks, write thanks, not kind regards.
2. Have a line before you get into the guts of the email that is a human acknowledgement of that conversation. Thanks for your time on the phone. Great to talk to you. Thanks for helping me get that sorted. Thanks for making some decisions about X.
3. Now use headings for the chunks of info you need recorded. Some headings could be:
- What we discussed
- What we decided
- I’m going to
- You’re going to
- We still need to know
4. Under those headings, just use a simple bullet point for each point. Try not to expand or narrate too much. Just clear and stripped back as much as possible. The more words you use, the easier it can be for misinterpretation to happen.
5. Now insert a line at the end that allows the other person to safely come back with a correction or addition without being argumentative: If I missed anything or got something wrong, just let me know!
6. Wrap it up warmly with a thanks or a talk soon or a have a great day, and BOOM.
That’s it from your friendly #RockstarWriter today.
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