Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Warning: You've missed 90% of what I'm saying!

Statistics show that recipients misinterpret emails 90% of the time. That's absolutely horrifying! Emails are the most common form of business communications today. If 90% of what you send is not taken as you intended it, and 90% of what you read is not as the sender intended it, there are huge margins for interpersonal upset.

That upset in turn can lead to lost friendships, lost opportunities and lost business.

So what's an email dependent person to do? Here are a few hints to help make your emails e-mazing!
  1. Keep your sentences to 11 words or less. Statistics (where do I get this stuff?) show that even college grads have difficulty with sentences longer than 11 words. English majors like yours truly are the exception. (OK, I made that part about the English majors up, but it sounds reasonable, doesn't it?) So keeping sentences short may help understanding. (After all, when was the last time you read a Victorian novel voluntarily?)
  2. Keeping your message short can help, too. Maybe. The popular culture is training us to have short attention spans and to think in little bits. Short messages may help those with short attention spans.
  3. Or not. Brevity may not always be your ally. You may need extra words to convey a nuance or emphasize the core point. If you need it, use it, but remember your recipient may be from the sound-bite generation. And you may be trying to convey TMI-Too Much Information.
  4. Write it then reread it. Does it make sense to you on a second read? Can you think of a better way to say it? If so, edit. Just because your fingers typed the words doesn't mean they deserve to see the light of day. James Michener once said he was not a great writer; he maintained he was a great editor. Follow Michener's cue.
  5. Still not sure if your message is clear? Send it to a coworker. Ask her to read what you've written. Then ask her what you said. If she got your message, send it. If she has questions about what you were saying, go back to point #4.
  6. Simplify your presentation. I do NOT mean "dumb it down." I mean simplify. Cut out extraneous words. Shorten sentences. Break up paragraphs.
  7. Be aware of high-risk factors. You take extra risks when you use humor (ask me-I'll give you a dozen stories!), slang (regional, professional, generational), unfamiliar multi-syllabic vocabulary (don't be showboating!), and foreign words.
OK. You've done everything right, but you still want to be sure the intent of your message was received. How can you be absolutely sure that what you're saying is crystal clear? 

I know this sounds like business practices from the Dark Ages, but the absolutely best proof that someone received your message correctly is to pick up the phone and call him. 

Did you like this article? Did you learn something? Send me an email! Tell me about it. 

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