While no one ever wants to be the bearer of bad news, there are times when you need to write an email with a painful message. Whether it be sharing honest feedback or informing a group of people about a decision made, it’s worth crafting a clear and professional message.
Often, however, even the most harmless words can be misinterpreted in written form, so naturally a more difficult message has the potential to create more unnecessary tension between you and the reader.
Preventing fallout is the goal when sending a hard email, so here are valuable guidelines for composing those difficult emails.
Clear emails always have a clear purpose. Whenever you sit down to write, take a few seconds to ask yourself: “Why am I sending this? What do I need from the recipient?” If you can’t answer these questions, then you shouldn’t be sending an email. Writing emails without knowing what the intention wastes yours and the recipients’ time.
Emails are not the same as business meetings. With business meetings, the more agenda items you work through, the more productive the meeting. With emails, the opposite is true. The less you include in your emails, the better.
That’s why it’s a good idea to practice the “one topic” rule. Make each email you send about one thing only. If you need to communicate about another project, write a separate email.
Empathy is the ability to see the world through the eyes of other people. When you write a message, think about your words from the reader’s point of view. With everything you write, ask yourself:
Thinking of other people will transform the way they respond to you. As a reminder, most people are busy and don’t have time to guess what you want. They also like to be thanked for their time, and want to know what action, if any, there is to take.
Back in 1946, George Orwell advised writers to “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” This advice is even more relevant today, especially when writing painful emails. Short words show respect for your reader. By using short words, you’ve done the hard work of making your message easy to understand.
The same is true of shortened phrases. Avoid writing big blocks of text if you want your email to be clear and easily understood.
Beyond shortened words and phrases, what’s the key to keeping your emails short? Using a standard structure helps you organize your thoughts and keep information controlled.
Have you ever noticed that someone who is upset, frustrated, or stressed tends to write in long, ongoing paragraphs. Usually they haven’t thought about their purpose and haven’t adhered to a structure.
Here’s a simple structure to get you started:
Part of your standard structure above MUST include a call to action. Without it, your message is fruitless and will leave people confused and without a next step to take.
A clear call to action states what it is you want readers to do with your message. Should they make a phone call to a local state representative? Should they follow a new set of rules now being enforced? Should they ponder the meaning of life?
Whatever the purpose is of your email, make the call to action as direct as possible and say it in a matter of three sentences or less.
Folks, this is a big one. Mess up a little spelling or grammar and even the best of intentions can fall apart. Part of the hard work of writing difficult emails in a professional manner is careful proofreading. Read your email aloud to yourself and even consider having someone else proofread to ensure the message and content is correct and clear.
You have the power to craft a great email message even when circumstances are difficult by keeping a clear purpose, focusing on one topic, practicing empathy, using short phrases, sticking to a structure, using a call to action, and proofreading your content.
Your readers will thank you, not because you wrote a tear-jerking novel, but because you respected their time and made it clear.