In our work world, email is a major communication tool, and we use it frequently. Even before the pandemic, we didn’t see our colleagues and administrators every day. We find other ways to connect. Because we are usually in a rush, we write and send emails without thinking too much about their composition. What we aren’t thinking about is what will happen at the other end of our message.
Communication consists of a sender, a message, and a receiver. The job of the sender is to craft a message appropriate to the receiver and choose the method or communication platform that makes it easy for the receiver to understand it. If you don’t get this right, your message is less likely to be grasped.
Communications is a core skill of leadership. You can’t do much if you are unable to communicate clearly and successfully. Most of you do a good job, but all of us have room for improvement.
Steve Strauss wrote an article on email for small businesses for USA Today. His six rules work well for our communications as well. Here are his recommendations – with my comments on how they translate into the education world.
- Think of the subject line as the headline of your story – Like us, our receivers get far too many emails. They quickly scan their inbox to see who sent messages and what they are about. If they can’t figure out from the subject line what you want to tell them, they are less likely to focus on it when they do open it. Sending a teacher an email about a resource with the subject “great link for you,” doesn’t say much. “Resource for upcoming unit” lets them know what they will gain by opening your email. “Outstanding Student Products” will get your email opened quicker than “Library News.”
- Short is sweet – Long emails are often not fully read. I have missed important information because they buried it four or five paragraphs down. Keep things short and to the point. If possible, your paragraphs need to be short as well, no more than four sentences is preferable. Remember, your email may be read on a phone or tablet. Large blocks of texts don’t get the focus.
- Emojis are Ok – This one surprised me. It turns out they are helpful because we lose so much information when we don’t hear someone and their tone of voice. But use them sparingly. As Strauss cautions, you need to be careful with them. One emoji in an email is probably the maximum to use. And choose that one with some thought. Is it needed? Does it clarify what you wrote or help with the tone? You don’t want your email to sound like a text from a teen. Also keep in mind the relationship you already have with the recipient. Are you friendly? Then the emoji might help. Your principal or superintendent? Not so much.
- Use the correct tone – Emojis notwithstanding, the downside of email is the challenge of conveying your tone which would be clear in a face-to-face interaction. You can be casual, but, as Strauss notes, sarcasm and facetious jokes aren’t always received as sent. Many have gotten into trouble for saying something in an email that was taken out of context. Consider the audience for the tone you are using. This is also true for using formal or more casual language.
- Writing is rewriting – We do this for many things we write, but often skip it for emails, especially if we’re in a rush. If the email is important, take the time to review it. To be absolutely sure, copy and paste it into a Word document and note the grammatical corrections. Also, reread the email for flow. You may have gotten subject line correct, but did you begin with the most important part of your communication? Make sure it says what you want, the way you want.
- Nothing is private – Unless you are praising, avoid putting someone’s name within an email. You don’t know to whom it may be forwarded. Strauss also warns about the potential for problems with the ever dangerous “reply all.” This isn’t new information, but it’s important to remember because when we move too fast, we make mistakes. Emails are forever. Even the biggest names in tech have been caught by surprise when old emails have surfaced. Pay attention before hitting send.
Emails that are written well and get read get acted on. In our rush to get the message sent, we may be losing the opportunity to communicate clearly. Think before you write. Ensure that the emails you send connect with their recipients.