Email doesn’t start relationships. People do.

We have a lot to thank email for. It has made our lives easier. It’s made us faster, more organised and better at monitoring the impact of our communications.

But there’s a problem.

Email has done this for everyone.

And this is potentially harmful to effective communication, particularly when we equate ‘pushing a button’ with the belief that a communication has happened. We need to bring our ‘selves’ to this amazing technology, because the technology simply won’t do the whole job all by itself.

How do you do this? Here are 4 challenges with writing effective emails and some ways to approach them that will bring warmth, character and distinctiveness to your email communications.

No 1. People can be squeamish about writing. This is understandable, especially if they’ve never written anything before.

  • Experiment. Don’t rush in headlong with a grand blog page. Do something low risk. Post the story to your news page and see what happens. Then when it goes out and nobody sues, you can move to the next level.
  • Ask for feedback. Share your piece. Be open to criticism. Take suggestions on board and make changes where they improve it.

No 2. People get all uptight when they write. People don’t always write how they speak. Somehow the effect of sitting down at a keyboard or picking up a pen makes them formal and cold. This is not helpful when it comes to writing email that connects to people.

Fix: Write as if to be read aloud: Your warmest, richest writing will emerge when you write how you speak. So after you’ve written something, take the time to read it out loud, to yourself. You’ll get a sense of how it sounds, which is how it will be heard in your readers mind when they read it. Listen and then adjust your words until they sound good to you.

No 3. “We can’t afford a writer and we haven’t got the time to do it. Businesses are stretched. They have more on the ‘to do list’ than they can afford. It can look like an impossible task to start writing.

Fix: The likely writer/editor on your team may not have these job titles. Here’s how to identify them. Who can listen and hold a conversation? Who gives people space to think? Who enhances the quality of a discussion? Who builds on other people’s points? Who writes outside work? Good speakers and listeners are often good writers in the making. But they can be hidden from view.

Fix: On not having time ask, “what’s the minimum I could successfully do to start things off?” Do that. People sometimes start with what they want to do, realise it’s not possible and never start. That is a trap. Start as small as you can. And then take tiny steps forward.

No 4. “If they’ve opened an email it means something.” If people open an email it is very tempting to draw all sorts of conclusions. The one conclusion that can be drawn is that the email is being opened. But that’s it. What that means is not clear.

Fix: Use metrics sparingly. Let the whole thing settle in, evolve and develop. The email alone doesn’t sell. So don’t promise or expect results from it.

Fix: Resist the urge to follow up and start to push when you see people opening your email. Replace it with something else. Send a thank you note to the top 10 openers of your email. Make them aware that you’re happy to hear from them if they’d like to talk to you. Consider including a link to a Linked In group or some suggestions for further reading. Just something light. And if they accept, they’ve returned the favour. And if they don’t then it’s not a problem.

Email is great but it’s not built to do the whole communication job. So treat it as the start of something by creating ‘jumping off points’ for your recipients. Make it about them, and they will save it and read it.

George Bernard Shaw said: “The biggest single problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

He was right then and it’s still true today.

Can you relate to any of the above? What are your email challenges? I’d be interested to hear about them.

If you found this article interesting, follow me @JohnDScarrott

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