How can email be SO cold?

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Email is COLD. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of cold email communication and have seen it go wrong. Without those laughs, smiles, intonations and hand gestures, the reader can easily misinterpret your intended tone. And just try to tackle a contentious issue with a friend or colleague via email. Big mistake. You may as well pour gasoline on the ‘issue’ and blow it up into an ‘ISSUE’.

Email takes your neutral language and translates it into something that sounds clipped and cool (not the good kind of cool).

Email takes your neutral language and translates it into something that sounds clipped and cool (not the good kind of cool). It takes clipped, cool language and makes it sound harsh and cutting. Harsh and cutting is not what you intend (well, usually).

We know this stuff, but a few reminders of how to keep people on your side and avoid annoying misunderstandings in email communication can’t hurt.

Over the years of sending and receiving emails, I’ve realized just how cold email is, so I started warming it up deliberately. Sometimes it takes a bit of effort and may not seem natural, but it is just a reality of effective email communication. In person we can laugh, smile, chit chat, wave, or toss in a joke in order to smooth the bumps in a conversation and ensure that both parties are on the same page. Email is just bare text on a screen with no intrinsic warmth, so it is important to make opportunities for personal connection with your recipient.

Warming email up means recognizing that you are in a social setting, but in text form.

Warming email up means recognizing that you are in a social setting, but in text form. It requires being deliberate. This is, in my mind, counterintuitive. Those of us who use a lot of email for our work appreciate the efficiency: we think (we hope!) it’s fast, objective, accurate, and reliable. Typing in all those extra words to ‘warm it up’ seems inefficient. But without those warm words, there is room for misinterpretation and unintended meaning, which can be inefficient, and also damaging. I try to put a warm, human voice in there — it sets the tone of the email, and encourages my reader to give me the benefit of the doubt in case there is any room for misinterpretation.

How you present yourself in your email writing is part of your own personal brand, and you want to match it to who you are.

Tips for avoiding misinterpretation and keeping your email warm:

  • Start with some friendly chit chat. You don’t have to fake it, just be genuine and interested. If you’d chit chat in person, then do it in email. But avoid overdoing it to the point of being cheesy.

  • Keep it short. People don’t absorb long email messages very well.

  • Deal with only one topic per email. Seriously.

  • Take the time to write a descriptive subject line. It makes email easier to use for the recipient.

  • Keep it friendly and polite. Write in full sentences and properly capitalize to ensure you sound professional.

  • Deal with conflict in person when possible, or at least on the phone.

  • If you must address a conflict via email, then use the ‘caring sandwich’ technique (something positive/the negative thing/something positive). Reread your email over before hitting send. Remove harshness. (Are you angry? Reread it tomorrow.)

  • End with a warm closing and personalize your sign-off.

In the years of email, text and social networking communication, unconventional use of English has become more and more common. While not appropriate in a professional setting, these techniques are effective in casual use. Punctuation such as ellipses and exclamation points definitely warm things up and add personality to an email. Use of acronyms, abbreviations and slang also help to set a tone that is friendly.

Caution:

  • Short phrases and one-word answers tend to seem rude.

  • Be wary of topics being taken out of context, so make your message very clear.

  • People save and forward email, so remember that what you write is not necessarily private, but is definitely forever.

  • Don’t send email in anger.

  • Definitely don’t break-up with or fire someone with email.

Email is cold, but you don’t have to be.