4 Ways to Improve Your Email Response

In the age of remote work, an email’s tone and style—for a job offer or a response to the boss—is more crucial than ever.

Back in the annals of last year, if you happened to fire off an email that, on second thought, may have come off the wrong way, you could have easily walked down the office hallway and repaired a miscommunication.

execunetselect-email-laptopBut in the work-from-home era, a face-to-face mending isn’t readily available. And while Zoom and phone calls do enable other ways of communicating, email is becoming more widely used than it already was pre-COVID, when workers received, on average, about 120 emails per day.

Studies show that while just 10% of emails require an urgent response, about half of professionals will respond within an hour of receiving an email.

Even when face-to-face meetings return, many of them will happen in masks. And with up to 40% of English speech sounds visible from the lips, the loss of such a capability will lead to an increase in miscommunication and frustrations, leading some career experts and audiologists to advise people to follow up with emails. “The last thing we want is more emails, but these days, it could be really helpful,” says Patricia Johnson, a doctor of audiology and assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill. Below, a few tips on how to make that email sing.

Be Mindful of Your Tone Ratios

In her new book, Negotiating the Sweet Spot: The Art of Leaving Nothing on the Table, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management professor Leigh Thompson explains that our ratio of positive to negative communication is extremely important for emails—so much so that she recommends underlining how many times you use negative phrases (e.g., “I’m concerned”) versus positive ones (e.g., “This is great”) in your email chains. “When it comes down to it, it is the ratio of positive to negative that is really important for our e-communication, not the absolute number of each per se,” she writes in her book. Another way to check your tone: “Send it to someone you trust so they can gauge the tone of the email before you send it off,” says Hamaria Crockett, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach.

Check Your Pronouns

Many times, personal pronouns draw attention to people rather than to objects or concepts, Thompson notes. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can take away from the subject at hand and throw off engagement with others. She writes that using a lot of “I” or “me” can “reflect a neurotic or ruminative self-focus.” Instead, research has found that the ideal order of personal-pronoun use in negotiation is first, “you;” second, “we;” third, “I;” and fourth, “they.” Being aware of this can help bolster your engagement because by using these pronouns in this order, you’re showing you’re aware of others’ needs.

Don’t Make it Personal

It’s a natural instinct in negotiations to immediately think about what you want or need. But Crockett says it’s best to make the matter at hand about the company or market. For example, if you’re negotiating via email over a salary, instead of saying something like, “My salary requirements are between X and Y,” you can write, “According to market research, I’ve found that positions similar to this range in pay from X to Y.” “The more you don’t make it personal, the better,” Crockett says.

Pause Before You Press “Send”

When in doubt, wait before you send the missive—particularly in the age of coronavirus, when stress is already heightened. Studies show that while just 10% of emails require an urgent response, about half of professionals will respond within an hour of receiving an email. “Take all the time you need to present the best email you can,” Crockett says.



Korn Ferry

Korn Ferry

Korn Ferry is a global organizational consulting firm. We help clients synchronize strategy and talent to drive superior performance. We work with organizations to design their structures, roles, and responsibilities. We help them hire the right people to bring their strategy to life. And we advise them on how to reward, develop, and motivate their people.

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