How Email Can Sabotage Our Work Relationships

The overwhelming majority of business communication is carried out through e-mail, so you need to be prepared to communicate in writing in powerful, persuasive, and influential ways. More importantly, you need to know when to take your conversation offline and make time to ‘click’ personally with the people who matter most.

Don’t Lose Good Relationships In Your Inbox

With some people at work, you click from the beginning. They get you and you get them. Whatever you say, they know what you mean. Then the emails pile up.

The ease with which we can write and send an email means that we often rely on email as our preferred form of communication. As such, emails pour in by the hundreds, and people have less and less time to deal with their flooding inbox.

Achieving anything more than the most basic communication with others through email is next to impossible. Fortunately, there are a few ways to keep from losing that ‘click’ with your colleagues, even when you’re exchanging emails.

You have three main challenges to overcome in order to build, or at least not undermine, your work relationships using email.

Beware of These 3 Email Dangers

Responding In Haste Is A Mistake

You can copy, paste, and respond in haste. Get a message, hit reply, say what’s on your mind, and send, and suddenly there is no going back. And that’s only part of the problem.

Email Isn’t For Friendly Correspondence

It’s not uncommon to get 100+ messages in a day. The volume of email makes it a huge challenge for anyone trying to get anything done. Warmth falls by the way side and friendliness often takes a back seat to the business at hand.

Unless it is a message between friends or associates who have a friendly relationship, people just don’t have much time or tolerance for off-topic questions like, ‘how are you, what’s new?’

Emails Make It Difficult To Convey Emotion

Because email is such a convenient form of communication, it is used for almost everything. Yet it lacks the vocal and facial cues — the emotional texture — that tell us what the words mean.

That means it can be hard to tell when someone is being friendly, or they are frustrated, if they are angry or joking, if they are demanding or just being direct. The result is that the writer’s meaning can be easily misunderstood.

There Is A Time And Place For Email

There’s a time and a place for everything, but it isn’t all the time and everyplace. Email is a powerful way to attend to specific kinds of interpersonal messages. For everything else, there are likely to be better ways.

For example, email can get the ball rolling when you want to make contact with someone you don’t know. You can use it for scheduling. You can use email for setting the table for meetings, by providing background or need-to-know information ahead of time. You can use email for the exchange of ideas, to work through details and keep a running log.

Human Connection Has No Substitute

But there is no substitute for personal contact, and email is too impersonal to give you that kind of connection. Since more and more of our personal and business communication is being done by e-mail, you need to be prepared to communicate in writing in powerful, persuasive and influential ways.  And you need to know when to take your relationship offline and make time to ‘click’ personally.

Reasons Your Emails Are Left Unopened

It’s difficult to communicate over email, but even more of a challenge when your messages don’t even get opened. Here are a few reasons why your emails are getting trashed or overlooked.

No Subject or Lost Subject

We need to be able to look into our inbox and archives to see at a glance what a message is about. When you leave out the subject, or let it be moved out of the way by all the Re:Re:Re: and forwarding symbols, you deny people this quick info.

The subject line tells people what they’re getting into before they get into it. A blank subject line says that what you have to say must not be very important.

A lost subject, which is what happens when forwarding takes place (Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What?) tells your recipient that the email isn’t personal. Instead, give a short descriptive subject line to get attention for your message.

Long Messages

Email is great for brief interactions. The longer the email, the less attention it is likely to receive. Keep it short and simple, make your point obvious, ask for what you want. That’s good for your recipient, so it’s good for you.

Group Sends

Because of the number of messages most people receive, if it isn’t personal, it’s not likely to matter much. The only exception to this is when sending to people with lots of time and not much going on.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who fit that description. If you don’t have permission to send an informational message to someone, then don’t send it. Getting permission gets attention. Assuming permission gets your message trashed.

Openly Forwarding Email Addresses

A sure fire way to stir up negative reactions is sending a message to multiple recipients and showing all the addresses in the To: and CC: field or in the body of the message itself.

This is a violation of your recipients’ privacy, and shows a lack of respect and a degree of disconnect between actions and consequences. It surely will not get you a ‘click.’

Leave Emotion Out Of Your Emails

Because email is word-based communication, the normal contextual cues of what we see and hear when people talk are unavailable. That means that it is far more difficult to interpret accurately what you read when you get a message. A person’s mood is likely to dictate their response to your message.

If you’re feeling strong feelings while writing an email, your message is likely to trigger unintended consequences.

If you’re feeling strong feelings while reading an email, your response is likely to trigger unintended consequences. There’s a name for the pain of those consequences. It’s ‘flame.’

An email flame is any message that triggers an emotional reaction. And the problem with flames is they spread. You send a flame, you get one back, and before you know it, your entire relationship is ablaze in misunderstanding.

Conflict Kills Connection

If there’s any chance at all that your message could increase conflict, write it again. Take out the loaded language. Take out extraneous information.

Get it down to what actually needs to be said, and say that. And if there’s any doubt, leave it out, take it offline and pick up a phone, or better yet, get some face time.

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About the author

Rick Kirschner

Dr. Rick Kirschner has helped millions improve their communication skills and have better relationships…

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