Sending business emails to people who don’t know you well can be tricky. Really, sending any kind of email to people who don’t you well can by tricky.
And, sometimes, the same thing is even true for close friends and family members thanks to the vagueness of the written word.
As a general rule, what we want to say is most easily conveyed by speaking, which comes complete with the relationship-saving qualities of tone of voice, inflection and syllable emphases.
There’s no such immediate qualifiers when writing, however. Therefore, you can much more easily come across antagonistically.
I can’t promise completely smooth sailing in this regard. But I can give you some tips that will at least keep your recipients from hating your guts. And that counts for something.
To illustrate how unintentionally powerful the written word can be, consider the text below. This is an altered version of an email chain I recently exchanged with a potential client of mine.
Obviously it begins with a correspondence from me to him.
From: JDiLouie <firstname.lastname@example.org
To: JDoe <email@example.com
Sent: Thursday, May 16, 2019 1:58:35 pm
Subject: Re: Complimentary Edits
Thank you for your patience, and here is the track-changed copy for you to review.
Let me know if you take issue with any of the edits I made to what you said. You’re the author, so you’re the boss in what you say.
I’ve also attached a potential image for you to look over. If you like it, we can run with it going forward.
And here’s his response…
From: JDoe <firstname.lastname@example.org
To: JDiLouie <email@example.com
Sent: Friday, May 17, 2019 8:47: am
Subject: Re: Complimentary Edits
1. Interview- Psychology should be in caps. Otherwise OK.
2. Image with the hole in the wall- no. I attach a wider copy of the cover although it does not have a title. If that does not work, how about a solid color background, black?
3. Attached- bio. I have others if it does not work.
So what did “John” do wrong in the email above? Why do I no longer want to work with him after that and several similar back-and-forths?
There’s actually a list of reasons… writing niceties he didn’t see fit to follow through on for one reason or another, perhaps entirely accidentally or ignorantly. Yet his lack of business email etiquette can save you from risking a business relationship of your own going forward.
Knowing that, get ready to take notes.
There was no greeting added: no “Dear Jeannette” or “Hi Jeannette” or “Good morning.” Small as that kind of addition may be, it can do a lot to kick off a positive correspondence chain with encouraging results. The same goes for a proper salutation. Even something as simple as “sincerely” before signing off can smooth out otherwise rough edges you may have unintentionally added into your business email.
The repeated lack of complete sentences gives the impression that “John” can’t be bothered: that the person he’s writing to is beneath him and the dignity of his time. Whether he meant to or not, he comes across as rude and potentially condescending.
Including nothing but a bulleted list in a business email also comes across as inconsiderate. Though this time, it adds an added layer of insult, implying that the recipient is too stupid to understand anything but a childish set of instructions. While bullet points in and of themselves can be very useful in clarifying and cleaning up a business email, they should always be sandwiched by non-formatted text. Just a “Thanks for your email. I believe I’ve addressed everything you brought up below.” in the beginning and an, “Again, thank you for your time and efforts. Let me know if I missed anything.” at the end can do the trick.
I know it takes a bit more time to avoid the mistakes mentioned above. And, as I’ve addressed before, you can easily become intensely paranoid about how you come across in your business emails.
They’re probably not worth that intense amount of consideration.
But you do catch more flies with honey than vinegar. And you do make better business connections when you give them the written time of day.