Email is a great tool for communicating information quickly, but sometimes what we say in an email is not exactly what we mean or intended to convey. It seems the quicker we write and dash off an email, the more likely it is for something to go wrong.
Here are 3 things I’ve learned to consider before hitting the “send” button:
1. Remember that emailing is different than having a live conversation.
When composing email correspondence, a phrase can be taken much differently when being read by the recipient vs. when hearing it in person.
I learned this lesson the hard way quite a few years ago. The incident made such an impact on me that I’ve never made this mistake again. Here’s what happened.
I had been working closely with a client (in person) for a few weeks, creating marketing materials and product mockups for a trade show. It was late evening the night before the show. We had delivered all mockups to the client earlier in the evening, and she was leaving in the morning for the show.
As I was in my office reflecting on the project—thinking through all that went on from the start of project to final delivery—I realized there was an improvement we could make next time that would streamline the process.
While it was top of mind, I sent my client a quick email to mention my thought to her. In the short note I told her I realized that if she does “x” it could save a lot of time. My sentence read something like:
I was thinking, if we could have gotten the exact package specs before beginning design of the prototype, it would have saved time. Don’t you think?”
Shortly after sending this email, I got a phone call from Deb who read me the riot act for being rude and talking down to her. I had no idea what she was upset about because all I did was send her what I thought was a short, happy note about a time-saving suggestion I had, and then asked if she agreed with the suggestion.
But as you’ve probably figured out, when she read “don’t you think?” she read it as: “Hey, what’s wrong with you? Don’t you ever think about what you’re doing—how dumb are you? And I meant it as “don’tcha think?” meaning “how’s that sound to you, Deb? Does that sound like it might work? What do you think about that idea?”
I can’t remember any of the details of that project, but to this day that little phrase “don’t you think?” still haunts me.
2. Using autofill for your email addressing can easily lead to an awkward situation if it auto fills to a different person (or word) then you intended.
We once received an email from a long-time client about a creative project in progress. The only problem was the project wasn’t in progress with us.
By reading the email it was obvious (and very much a surprise to find out) that she was giving work to someone with the same first name at another agency. This situation can be awkward for both sides—the sender of course, but then the recipient has to decide how to respond without putting the sender on the hot seat. In this case I replied back, “I think you meant to send this to someone else. Thanks.”
I have a large post-it note on my own monitor that says, “Look at who you’re sending to!” just to remind myself to triple check my recipient address before hitting send.
3. Letting a little time go by before distributing an email, and then taking a second look before launching it into cyberspace, can save time and embarrassment.
Often times I’m working on more than one email correspondence at a time. Instead of hitting “send” as soon as I finish, I like to let it sit for a few minutes, then come back to re-read it to make sure I didn’t say anything in haste, as well as check the address to make sure the right address is on the right email.
I love the scene in The Intern when the busy exec (Anne Hathaway) who is multi-tasking—writing an email, talking on the phone, driving to a meeting—just realizes that the email she wrote about how horrible her mother is, which she intended to send to her assistant, was sent directly to her mother instead. It is a great scene.
Panic-stricken, she calls together her IT department to ask them how to recall the email before her mother sees it. They conclude that it can’t be recalled, and the only answer is to break into her mother’s house, find the computer, and wipe the email off of it before her mom gets home. It gets even more comical when the “fake” alarm system turns out to be real, and her IT guys frantically try to get their mission accomplished before the police sirens they hear outside get any closer.
Now that I’ve re-read my tips for reviewing email before hitting send, I think that picking up the phone might be a much safer way to communicate!