Have you ever received an email that was totally confusing? I'm sure you’re not alone there! Insurance companies, government agencies and councils have been culprits in that department - but individuals can be just as guilty.
In our extremely busy lives, it’s so easy to dash off an email to a potential customer, an important client or a team member without giving it much thought. Remember, every piece of communication - including even the most inconsequential email - is part of a crucial relationship with whoever you're sending it to. Send an email that’s not clear and you risk one of these results:
Your reader might have to come back to you with questions, and that wastes their time and yours. If you’d got your point across clearly the first time, there'd be no need for time-sucking clarification questions.
I get hot under the collar when I receive an email that doesn't make sense - how about you? It’s easy to then think less of the person or organisation that sent you the email - after all, if they can't make sense when they write, are they really worth doing business with?
Not taking care with your emails can damage your reputation - and that can have far-reaching consequences. When someone receives an email from you, you want them to feel enthusiastic about opening it - as opposed to groaning and hitting the delete key.
3. Speaking of deleting, the third consequence of bad emails is that your message is ignored.
That can mean lost opportunities and even more serious ramifications. Let's say you send a message because you need someone to take specific action. They ignore it because it’s too hard to read - you haven't been clear enough. They never get the important message about the action, so they don't do what's required. That could lead to a major problem for them, and for you. Make no mistake: unclear communication creates risk.
On the flip side, it's easy to structure your emails so your reader gets your message. I call it the IDEA framework.
I is for Introduction.
Start with a friendly acknowledgement; whether it's "Hi..", "Dear..." or some other greeting, make it appropriate to the audience and the situation.
Your first short paragraph is all about making a connection and setting the context for your message. Don’t assume the other person can read your mind. Spell out what the email will cover, for example,
I’m touching base to let you know about …”
D is for Detail.
Give more context so they get the "why" of what's coming next. Don’t just plunge into what you want from them. Help them understand why you’re asking or communicating your particular message. Keep this brief; one short paragraph.
E is for Explain.
State your position and very clearly outline what needs to happen next.
A is for Action.
This is where you specify the action step which might simply be “Please respond to me by 4pm tomorrow.” - or it might be asking them to register for an event, provide particular information or any number of other options.
One of the biggest failings with emails is that often the writer doesn’t make it clear what they want the reader to do with the information. If there’s no intended action, what’s the point of sending the email? Make the action clear and it’s much more likely your recipient will get the message and do what needs to be done.
Another thing; sign off your email in a way that builds engagement - even if you've just delivered unpalatable news. I like to sign off an email with "Kind regards," then my first name, followed by my signature block. "Thanks in advance" can also be effective, and there are many other variations. Avoid ending the email with your signature graphic and nothing else; that's like slamming the door without saying good-bye!
Consider also that email mightn't be the best communication channel for your message. Emails are fraught with danger because the recipient doesn’t have the benefit of your tone or body language and can only try to read between the lines if they’re not sure what you mean. If the information is in any way sensitive, urgent or controversial, sit down with the person face to face or at least pick up the phone. In any communication exchange, the channel you choose will have a big impact on the outcome.
Every email matters. Every word within every email matters. Try the IDEA framework and see if it works for you. I'd love to hear your feedback.