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Getting Email Right:
Six Rules to Write Emails that Convince, Influence and Persuade
Before we dig deep into what works in an email and what doesn’t, let us set the facts straight:
If you are trying to influence someone, email isn't always the best tool of communication. Relationships that rely on e-mail may have an uphill battle and even one short phone call can completely change the dynamic of an exchange.
Don't believe me? I have science to back up my claim:
Janice Nadler Ph.D. paired law students from Northwestern and Duke universities and asked each pair to agree on the purchase of a car.
The teams were to bargain entirely through e-mail, but half of them were secretly told to precede the negotiation with a brief getting-to-know-you chat on the good old telephone.
The results were dramatic. Negotiators who first chatted by phone were four times more likely to reach an agreement than those who used only email. Those who never spoke were not only more likely to hit an impasse; they also often felt resentful and angry about the negotiation.
The missing element in electronic communications is rapport and immediate emotional feedback. Facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice are all cues missing in email (smiley-face emoticons and exclamation marks can do only so much to replace them).
Let’s look at a typical email message:
What was written: OK will see if I can manage.
What was heard: I already have loads of work but because you are obnoxious, you are piling on more. I will do it because I have no choice. What do you think I am? A donkey!
What could have been written: I will get to it as soon as I am done with the other stuff on my schedule. It might be some time though, is this urgent?
See what I mean?
How to Write Emails That Convince, Influence and Persuade:
Start on a Personal Note.
Not just a “hope you are well” but something more personal like “how was your fishing trip this weekend?” or, when emailing strangers, start by saying something personal such as “I am a huge fan of your site and your recent piece on feminism really struck a chord with me”.
It’s good to get to the point, but including a personal note or two can warm up the whole exchange.
Tame those Emotions:
Emotions, especially anger and desperation, totally seep through your fingers into your email message and high emotion words like angry, unacceptable, unprofessional and disrespectful are especially dangerous in a new email exchange when you don’t have your facial expressions to soften the meaning.
Try looking for softer alternatives or, better yet, if you're feeling angry, misunderstood, or otherwise intense, do not write that email!
Keep it Short and Sweet:
A longer email doesn’t mean that you have covered all points, it just means you have given more zone-out room where people blank out your message because it just draaaaaags.
Use this fool proof formula instead:
- Two lines personal opener
- One paragraph (4-5 lines) body of the issue
- Two lines next actions or desired outcome
- Two lines closure on a warm note
Read it Twice:
Did you read the email at least once (ideally twice at some interval) before sending it?
This is especially important for emails in which you’re sharing information that can be potentially misinterpreted or where a certain action is required. One final reading can mean the difference between dismissal and immediate action.
The Coffee Cup Rule:
If it’s a critical email, DO NOT under any circumstances send it right away.
Write the email and then save it as a draft before you send it (especially for those middle-of-the-night, half-asleep missives).
Leave the email in the draft folder and have a cup of coffee before you hit that send button. You will see the email in a new light after that cuppa…promise!
Master the Subject Line:
Does the subject line of your email serve its purpose?
Consider using desired actions as email subjects rather than subject matter and you will see how your mail will get opened and produce a response. For example, in an email to a client or a team leader, something like “Need Your Action Please” would get the task done much faster rather than subject line “The Meeting Notes”.
Perhaps the most important email etiquette is common courtesy.
You would not want to write anything in an email that you would not say to a person to their face.
Many people choose to use email as an excuse to hide behind their computer monitors but sadly that’s not how things work in real life. An ugly, rude email is the worst, most incriminating evidence and can do much more damage than a few harsh words exchanged face-to-face.
About the Author
Bushra Azhar is a Persuasion Strategist and Founder of The Persuasion Revolution.
If you want to learn how to use psychology of persuasion to sell your ideas, your work or yourself, get your free copy of the Non-Icky Persuasion Toolkit.