Five Techniques For Better Workplace Communication
SMITH BRAIN TRUST – “I hope this email finds you well.” It’s the superfluous beginning of a message from someone who likely doesn’t care much about just how well you feel today. And it’s usually the wind-up before “the ask.” We all use email to do our jobs, and frequently those emails include requests — for information, assistance, a meeting, a sale. But there are better ways to get the recipient’s attention and actually make them want to respond.
When you want your email recipient to respond or at least keep reading, instead try these five techniques:
Directness. Cut the chit-chat and go right into why you are emailing in the first place. Be up front about your purpose. Often there is nothing wrong with just coming out and asking for what you need. Just make sure your tone will not be misinterpreted and doesn’t come across as harsh in any way. If you do need to soften it a bit, try other tactics.
Flattery. Making your request about the other person’s skills and abilities is always a good thing. Stress how important their expertise is and how much you value it, and they’ll be more likely to oblige. Don’t be too flowery. And don’t be fake.
Self-deprecation. Used sparingly, acknowledging shortcomings in your own skills or expertise can help further your use of flattery to make the recipient feel good about what you’re asking them to do.
Sincerity. Offer a heartfelt acknowledgement of the effort required in whatever you are asking. Try something like: “I know this is a busy time of year for you, but I could really use your help,” or, “I know you have a lot on your plate right now, and I appreciate any time or thought you can give to this.” Just don’t be too presumptuous and offer a “thank you in advance” before the recipient has agreed to your request.
A gentle nudge. It’s OK to follow up if you sent a request and haven’t received a response. Give the recipient adequate time to respond, depending on the request — a few days to a week is often fair — before sending a quick check-in. Let the reader know you are looping back on an original request. Sometimes emails just get lost in the inbox. I appreciate a friendly reminder if I have forgotten to respond to something.
There can be a place for a work email that doesn’t have an immediate call to action for the recipient and is more of a check-in, but even then cut to the chase. Don’t send long emails to shoot the breeze, unless you’re already engaged in a conversation with that person in some way. You can do quick check-ins where appropriate to open the door to more emails that might be informal or to set up a phone or in-person catch-up meeting. I am, after all, a big proponent of networking. For example, try sending a link to an article or a website that you want to share and say, “I’d love to get your thoughts on this and to catch up over lunch or coffee when you have time.”
Rachel Loock, MS, ACC, is a career and executive coach with the Executive MBA program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. She is a frequent presenter on career-related topics with MBA and working professional audiences.
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