Communication is already complex. It is a road filled with U-turns, roundabouts and dead ends, stretching on as far as the eye can see. Communication is extremely layered, encompassing spoken words, volume, timbre and body language in a complex display of sound and movement. With the advent of email, text without the subtle signs of the body or minor inflections of the voice became an unsupervised norm, leaving receivers of messages nothing but their imagination to fill in the gaps of human understanding. Understandably, this restricted form of one of our most intricate practices means there are a large number of potholes you can hit without even knowing they were there.
Pothole #1: Mistakes
Poor spelling, bad grammar and altogether shoddy sentence structure is something only children can get away with. That’s why when adults send emails with such blatant errors, the receivers immediately assume they’re dealing with an uneducated individual. To close friends, this is never an issue, but to clients you’re trying to foster business relationships with, it speaks novels about your character. Someone that doesn’t take an extra five to ten minutes going over their message for errors clearly doesn’t have the capacity to pay attention to the details. If they’re skimping on their text, what else would they overlook?
Pothole #2: No Rereads
This simple strategy gives you two additional times to read over the text in your head. Aside from the simple fact of spotting any grammatical or spelling errors, reading it in your head gives you the time to analyze what you’ve said and how you’ve said it. Is your message clear? Is it polite? Is there a better way you can phrase it? Since you are sending the message, it is entirely your responsibility to make sure the entire thing makes sense. The fewer questions they have, the more efficient the communication is, saving frustration on both ends.
Pothole #3: Lack of Research
A wonderful part of digital communication is that it doesn’t have to be replied to instantaneously. Say, for instance, your client has a question about the upcoming project you’re working on for them. Rather than having to put them on hold as you track down an answer if they had called, you can send a response with the estimated time it will take you to find the answer they’re looking for. In addition, if there is a miscommunication, emails and texts are your best friends. They store the history of everything, painting a clear picture of all the events that led up to the mistake. Typically, customers and clients are extremely appreciative of knowing why the issue happened in the first place.
Pothole #4: Blame
Heated engagements aren’t only limited to verbal communication. In fact, many find it easier to vent their frustrations through strongly worded emails. In such unavoidable confrontations, it’s of the utmost importance to maintain professionalism throughout the entirety of the exchange. While this maturity means upholding a lot of different societal norms, the most notable is avoid placing blame by using the word “you”. Because there is absolutely no way to add any kind of inoffensive tonality to the word, it always comes off as harsh. A far better choice is to go with the third person “it” when describing the situation and the steps needed to correct it.
Pothole #5: Knee-jerk Reactions
Receiving a critique or complaint through email typically comes off as harsh and uncaring. Without any body language to add concern, comedy or good natured help to it, many immediately go on the defensive, sending snippy replies back within minutes of reading the offending message. Don’t ever do this. Because communication is so limited through text alone, you must remain as neutral as possible when dealing with messages that initially frustrate you. Take a step back, get some water and take a quick walk around the office. By the time you return to the email, read it again in your head with a more positive tone. Find out the reason the sender felt it worth their time to tell you directly. Once you know this, you can respond appropriately and without malice.