The other day in my blog, I asked are you sure you understand?
And are you sure you are being understood?
Up popped the question, that is great in person, what about email?
Same as in person when we write an email, it’s important to get right to the heart of the message. Too often time is wasted, misunderstandings happen, mistakes made, and conflict arises because of being to vague.
Know your intention for the email. Most people know roughly what they want, but do not take the time to clearly think it through. Or worse, they know what they don’t want, not what they want. This is how we end up with ambiguous, muddled or unclear messages. Without a clear understanding of our desired end results, our thoughts are disorganized and we can easily confuse the listener. Once we are clear on the outcome(s) how do we make sure we are understood?
Same Words, Different Worlds Part 2
Let’s take a simple example: Giving your assistant directions in email – say, a VA and you can’t just go down the hall… so what to do….
5 tips for email or written directions for clarity and understanding.
# 1 Use basic fonts. Just like in using simple words, use simple (standard) fonts. San serif (no hands and feet e.g. Arial) is easiest to read on screen. Serif (with hands and feet e.g. Times) is easiest to read when printed. Plus everything in moderation — there is nothing worse than all UPPER CASE (means you are shouting), all bold, too many italtics and multiple colors blinding the display. Avoid overusing exclamation points, question marks, underlines etc.
# 2 Size does matter when it comes to fonts. If the fonts that are too small, too large, or otherwise hard to read, 12 to 14 point is about right. If your audience is over 60 consider 14 to 16 point font size.
# 3 Formatting is important. Make emails easy to read and quick to scan by using bullet points, numbered lists, and keeping paragraphs short. Highlight keywords for emphasis, yet remember rule #1 – everything in moderation.
# 4 Curb your enthusiasm. Choose professional sign-offs like “Sincerely” and “Regards.” Have a short signature line underneath your signature. No need to give your entire resume. I once saw a 28-line email signature statement underneath their signature – really, do we need to know all of it?
#5 Speak in third person with volatile information. Personally, I don’t think email is the place to carry on emotional or volatile conversations; there is too much room for misunderstanding. The mood of the reader is often placed onto the email they are reading. If you must, refer to the volatile information in the third person e.g. “The report is incorrect” instead of “Your report is wrong.”
BONUS: Send or show samples if you are requesting a specific type of work, be it a text sample, screen shot, or attachments send the recipient samples.
Added to the first 5 from Part One of Being Understood Quickly and you will have an email that will get your message heard and understood.
#1 Answer the WIIFM question first. Make sure the listener understands the relevance. People want to know “what do you need from me?” or “what’s in it for me?” Answer this question quickly. Skip long introductions, backgrounds, compliments and details. Jump to the point. State it clearly using minimal words.
#2 Stick to the facts. Too much backstory can cause confusion. Often we feel compelled to go into all the gritty details most of the time they are not necessary. Unless asked, you don’t need to overly elaborate anything.
# 3 Use active verbs. Active verbs help to energize your conversation. Instead of “The project will be done by Pam,” write: “Pam will do the project.” Use the straightforward — subject, verb, object — sentence structure.
# 4 Use simple words. Leave the million dollar words for your dissertation. This isn’t about anyone being simple-minded, it adds to the clarity of the message. If you make it too fancy you can force your listener to go running for their mental dictionary. Even with simple words, words can have more than one meaning, whether real or emotional, especially if the language the directions are given in are not the listener’s first language.
# 5 Ask open-ended questions. You both can gain clarity by asking open-ended questions. An open-ended question is one that cannot be answered yes or no. Have them describe not only the plan or steps to get to the goal, have them describe their vision of success for the assignment. Your job is to listen and not interrupt with corrections or additions. Once they have finished describing their “understanding” it is time for clarification, corrections, additions, follow-up and asking if they have ideas to add to make the project a success, then review.