This blog was originally published on 10/29/2018 and updated on 8/20/2020.
Most people have mixed feelings about email.
On one hand, email allows us to instantly communicate with people around the world much more efficiently than sending a carrier pigeon. On the other, email can be incredibly overwhelming. One recent study, for example, found that the average U.S. worker spends nearly six hours each day checking their email.
(To be fair, that breaks down to 209 minutes on work email and 143 minutes on personal email. It turns out we’re not always focused on our responsibilities when we’re in the office. Who knew?)
The fact that email is a text-based form of communication is both its biggest asset and its greatest drawback. Unlike having a face-to-face conversation with an in-person human being, email is a blank slate. Though we can get our words across, it’s harder to convey our tone of voice and the nonverbal cues that are a critical component of constructive communication.
This makes email a very efficient communications tool—but also one that leaves a minefield of potential miscommunications.
In business, most emails are a form of negotiation. We ask someone to read our message and respond in a certain way or take a certain action within a specific time frame.
To help you get better results, here are six tips that can help you be more persuasive over email.
1. Know the Best Ways to Use Email
When it comes to negotiation, your goal should always be to get your counterpart to speak to you in person—or, in the COVID-19 era, at least over the phone or on Zoom.
That said, email can be used to support and amplify verbal communications efforts by:
- Summarizing conversations and noting confirmations. Thanks for your time earlier. Here’s what we talked about.
- Following up. Let’s circle back in two weeks to follow up on these points.
- Obtaining information. Am I incorrect in assuming that we’ve agreed to do the deal?
2. Do You See What They See?
Before you hit reply, take a moment to think about the person who’s going to be reading your message.
What’s happened to them in the past week? What factors might be affecting their mood? Is it impossible for them to be mad about something else while they’re reading your email?
If you’ve talked with this person before, you probably have an idea of their preferred communication style and a rough sense of their daily life. Use this knowledge to inform your communication strategy. While you’re at it, try to add some personal relevance to your email, too, to connect on a deeper level.
If you don’t have a history to draw from, use what limited information you have to conduct an Accusation Audit™ to address the negatives the other side might be harboring. Then use Tactical Empathy™ throughout your message to make sure they know you see things from their perspective.
3. Keep It Short
Think of email as playing a virtual game of chess. Would you lay out your next seven moves for your opponent on your first turn?
When you don’t have a live audience to answer or interject, it’s easy to get carried away and forget about the back-and-forth nature of communication required to build trust-based influence.
To keep your cadence and expectations reasonable, limit yourself to two questions per email. If you need to ask more than that, pick up the phone or hop on a Zoom call.
If you’re sending a 2,200-word screed filled with 17 new concepts and eight questions, don’t be surprised if they never respond.
4. Consider Timing
Every form of communication comes with its own invisible clock. Waiting a couple of hours or even days to respond to an email is perfectly reasonable—less so for texting, and ridiculous to even fathom for in-person conversations.
These unspoken rules are helpful to keep in mind for a couple of reasons.
First, remember that you don’t have to respond to an email immediately. If you receive a message that makes your blood boil, resist the urge to respond on impulse. Wait until your emotions settle down and you are once again governed by logic.
Second, remember that these social expectations are not guarantees. Everyone has their own timing expectations and set of priorities.
To make sure you and your counterpart remain loyal to the same timeline—and interpret words like urgent and delayed the same way—use Calibrated QuestionsTM and no-oriented questions that address how and when you’re going to connect again. What’s the best time to follow up? Is Friday too late? Is the end of the month after your deadline?
By asking these kinds of questions, you’ll foster buy-in and increase the chances the other side follows through on their word.
5. Use Email Softeners
Here’s a little-known trade secret that will ensure your emails aren’t received in a hostile or aggressive tone.
Write your email and then go back and add email softeners like I’m sorry and I’m afraid wherever they fit.
Think: I’m afraid that if this isn’t resolved, it could lead to another issue versus If this isn’t resolved, it could lead to another issue and I’m sorry to drop this on you this week versus This requires your attention this week.
6. Don’t Underestimate Subject Lines and Sign-Offs
Most people see subject lines and sign-offs as throwaway parts of an email rather than vital pieces of digital real estate. Think about a subject line as your first impression—and your first chance to win your counterpart’s attention.
When people open their inbox, they scan subject lines and mentally prioritize their emails before figuring out which messages to click. If you’re using email as a mechanism to spark a quick decision or ignite a conversation after a period of silence, no-oriented questions can make effective subject lines. They warrant a response to set the record straight.
Have you given up on our deal? Have we missed our opportunity? Is it too late to sit down at the table?
All of a sudden, your counterpart has given your message the highest priority.
If subject lines are first impressions, sign-offs are your last opportunity to communicate tone and intent. And as we like to say here at The Black Swan Group, the last impression is the lasting impression.
Consider this sentence: I don’t understand why this hasn’t been done yet. Now read it with an aggressive tone, a curious tone, and a confused tone.
See why so many well-intended emails have derailed agreements?
Well-executed sign-offs can ensure this doesn’t happen to you. Instead of using a standard sign-off, label how you’d like to be perceived. Simply signing an email with phrases like Very humbly and With all sincerity may help you drive home your intention and earn your the benefit of the doubt.
Because you’re reading these words, you’ve already picked up an unexpected trick or two that will help you get better outcomes from your email efforts.
Continue the journey into the unexpected by downloading our free guide, 7 Unexpected Ways to Increase Sales.