Write Emails That Get The Results You Want

By: Bruce Kasanoff

Email is a tricky medium; when you hit the SEND button, it can be difficult to know whether the words you have written will help you or hurt you.

Sending an email is like communicating from a hermetically-sealed jar: the other person can’t see your body language, hear the tone in your voice, or know your state of mind.

For example, when I receive an email with a blank subject line or with a subject line riddled with typos, I think: this person is distracted or stressed out or careless or never pays attention to details (sometimes all four.)

After many painful experiences using email the wrong way, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:

1.) NEVER send bad news via email. No matter how rushed or angry you are, never use email to express anger or deliver bad news. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire: you will simply make things worse, because there is nothing to prevent anger from accelerating on the recipient’s side. Pick up the phone, or wait to talk in person. Even better, just take a deep breath and consider whether you need to do anything at all.

2.) Personalize the subject line. Whenever possible, it is best to use a subject that highlights a personal connection you have with the other person.

A simple way to do this is to acknowledge previous personal interactions with the recipient. Here’s a simple but effective example: Followup to our phone call on 9/15.

If you haven’t previously spoken to the recipient, use the subject to reveal that you’ve done your homework. For example, you could cite an article she wrote recently. You could also refer to a common element in your shared backgrounds, or a challenge her business is facing.

Intelligence is having something of value to say, and knowing what will be of value to each person. Your subject line should tip off that you have something of value to say to your reader.

3.) Know your reader! Especially when selling or persuading, do your best to write in the style your reader prefers. If you are writing to a decision-maker who prefers a concise summary of the facts, then give him or her exactly that, and no more. If you communicate with a reader who thinks short messages are superficial and vague, then provide facts to support your assertions and provide links or attachments that allow the reader to have access to even more support materials.

On perhaps a subconscious level, when replying to email I have a tendency to start mine in the same manner that the other person starts theirs: with my name, then a comma… or with a greeting, then my name, then a dash… or by just launching into the body and using no salutation at all. Because email is so limited, doing this may help to establish a bit of a connection. To be honest, I’m not sure if this works, I just do it naturally.

4.) Make it easy for the other person to do what you want. The more you ask of the other party, the less likely you are to get it. For example, it is far easier to get someone to answer a simple question than to get them to agree to a 30-minute meeting.

Many people make the mistake of “pitching” multiple ideas in a single email. This confuses the reader and makes it more challenging for them to respond. I prefer to stick to one idea. Especially when dealing with a new contact, if you can demonstrate a quick win, you are much more likely to start building a real relationship.

In the context of email, a quick win can be as simple as an intelligent and easy back-and-forth. I write you to ask a question, you reply, and I write back to say thanks and give you a line or two about how responding helped you.

5.) Use words to replace body language, tone and pacing. To escape the “hermetically-sealed booth” trap, use carefully-chosen words to help the reader understand your state of mind. By tossing in an, “I was so happy to hear from you,” at the beginning of an email, you make it easier for the reader to know that everything that follows is likely to be positive. Being positive in the first line of an email is the equivalent of smiling when you enter a room.

By taking a moment to organize your email into a logical order, you come across in a more intelligent and focused manner.

Likewise, proofing your email before sending it is another way to indicate calm consideration. Typos make people think your email was rushed; the absence of them conveys careful thought.

The sad reality is that whatever you write via email sounds twice as negative and half as positive as you intended, so in email be twice as positive and half as negative as you might otherwise be.