You work against deadlines. Often you have to write quickly, even when the message is complex and somewhat delicate. It’s not surprising that you occasionally come across as abrupt when you thought you were being efficient. This problem is especially true in email.
For the past few weeks, I've been getting web design help from an excellent graphic designer, Barb Rowan. When we go back and forth in email, not yet coming to agreement (perhaps with me resisting a new idea), I can feel my stress level rising, and I want to be sure my tension doesn't come across in my writing. In situations like that, it's time to slow down and breathe.
Speed is not efficient when the result is an abrupt, unkind message. It can take hours or days to resolve misunderstandings and repair morale when something has come across as tactless and abrupt.
Here are 10 simple ways I recommend to warm up your message and reduce the risk of hurt feelings.
1. Use a greeting.
Rather than going straight to your point, start with “Hi,” “Hello,” “Good morning,” “Greetings,” or another opener. A greeting acknowledges that you are communicating with another human being—not a machine. In a quick exchange of messages you can, of course, skip the greeting. But when you write again the following day, include one.
2. Use the person’s name.
Virtually everyone appreciates being addressed by name. Although it may seem sufficient to start a message “See inline,” when you begin with the person's name, you acknowledge him or her. It is a simple gesture that can have a profound positive effect. For up to four readers or so, use everyone’s name. For a larger group, use a group name, for example, “Thanks for your fine work, Customer Service Team.”
3. Use your own first name.
In email, many people use automatic signatures with their full name. Others use no name at all—they just end the message. But signing (typing) your first name warms up the message, creating a connection between you and the reader.
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4. Use complete sentences to avoid sounding cold or sarcastic.
“Thanks” or “Thanks a lot,” can sound sarcastic, especially in sensitive messages. Instead, write “Thanks for handling this. I really appreciate it.” Rather than “See me” or “We need to talk,” write “Let’s talk soon. I’d like to hear your thoughts on these images.”
5. Include words and phrases that communicate warmth and connection.
A message without positive language can seem cold and abrupt. Use these words and phrases for a warmer tone:
thank you for pleased to welcome looking forward pleasure value I’m honored glad happy to grateful glad to thoughtful delighted terrific
6. Avoid cool, canned language.
Some phrases, such as “I look forward to meeting you,” may be canned, but they aren’t cold. Others are canned and cold: “Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter.” To warm up your message, write as though the reader is your friend or valued colleague: “I would really appreciate your help with this research” or “Thanks so much for considering my request.”
7. Be clear when you are agreeing with the person or echoing their views.
In a quick exchange of messages, you may be tempted to write a simple sentence repeating what your reader has already written. But this action may lead your reader to think That’s exactly what I said! To avoid such a response, write “I agree with you that Constanza is the best person for the job” rather than “Constanza is the best person for the job.” That way, you head off this response: “Didn’t he read what I wrote? I was the one who recommended her!”
8. Avoid the word immediately or now when you are writing with a request or assigning a task.
Your reader may have several other immediate jobs, and your request may seem pushy and unreasonable, even if you are the boss. If something must be done immediately, stop by in person, phone, or email to ask whether the individual has time available. Assume that the other person is as busy as you—even busier.
9. Read your message aloud—exactly as it is on the page or screen.
Reading aloud helps you recognize how your writing may sound to others. You may have merely stated a fact when you wrote “Handling the Walters account is your responsibility.” Reading it aloud, though, you may notice a hint of criticism that you did not intend. When you can, wait at least a few minutes between writing your note and reading it aloud. That way, your impression will be fresher—similar to your reader’s fresh view.
10. Have someone read your message before you send it.
This step can be especially helpful when your communication will go to a group and when the reaction to it may not be positive. Your test reader can think about the people in the group and how to help them react positively to your message.
Often abruptness is accidental. But sometimes it comes across because of the writer’s underlying feeling of resentment, irritation, or entitlement. At all times, do your best to focus on the big picture, the higher goal, and the long term when you write. While it might feel good to put down, unsettle, or get the best of a colleague in writing, resist that temptation.
When you are hurt or angry, write a retaliatory message in your mind, have a big laugh (or cry) about it, and then do the right thing: behave generously and professionally. The cost of repairing the damage of a rude or abrupt message—in time, money, morale, and frustration—is just too great.
Do you have tips to reduce abruptness? Please share them.
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