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.

How Email Can Sabotage Our Work Relationships

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 has led to difficulty for many in managing the flow of it. People have less time to deal with emails as the sheer volume increases.  Getting anything more than the most basic connection with others through email is next to impossible.  But here’s how to keep from losing that ‘click’ while using this technological tool.

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

1.  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.

2.  It’s not uncommon to get 50 to 150 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?’

3.  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’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.

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.

Email Click-offs

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.’

The Danger of Emotional Email

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.

The best advice I can give you is that 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 can kill a 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.

About the author

Rick Kirschner

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

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