E-mail Tip #2 - E-mail is Not a Conversation

Receiving and sending e-mails feels very much like having a conversation with the other person. But this is incorrect, and it can be very dangerous.

When you talk to someone face to face, you are in a constant process of modifying your words, pace, inflection, body language, and tone based on the real-time feedback you are getting from the other person. When constructing or reading an e-mail there is no feedback what-so-ever. It is like you bundle up all your thoughts on a particular subject and put them in a box. Then you dump the box in the lap of the reader. There is no ability to modify sentence two based on the reaction to sentence one.

Since the way we keep out of trouble when interfacing face to face is to change the massage on the fly as a result of the feedback, is it any wonder why a high percentage of e-mails take a sour turn? You can defend yourself better from making blunders in writing or reading e-mails if you always remember this critical difference. It is unfortunate that most people totally ignore this aspect when writing and trying to interpret online notes.

When you proofread an e-mail, try to see areas where sentence structure or choice of words could be misinterpreted and add some guidance when necessary. One trick I like to use (albeit sparingly) is what I call a "word emoticon." We all know the little smiley face and other emoticons. These are helpful, but not very professional. They can also be subject to misinterpretation. A word emoticon is much more precise, and it will not look as informal as a smiley face.It sure beats guessing at the meaning of an emoticon. *chuckles* This technique is usually used for action-oriented words. You do not see this technique used often, but it is a great aid to communicate actual body language. Here are a few of my favorite short descriptions:

*rolling eyes*

*smiling sheepishly*

*pounding head on table*

*grinning uncontrollably*


*breaking into a cold sweat*

*rubbing my tired eyes*

*showing you my tongue*

*drooling on keyboard*

*licking my chops*

*losing my lunch*

*tipping my hat*

*scratching my head*

*falling over with laughter*

*wiping a tear*

*blowing a kiss*


The possibilities are endless, and there are fewer chances for misunderstandings than there are with graphic emoticons. Get creative and have some fun with this technique. Keep the descriptions short; five words should be the maximum length. The only caution is to use these descriptions sparingly. One or two in a note really helps convey emotion. Any more than that annoys the reader. If you use this technique, you will be among a very small percentage of e-mailers, and you will get comments on the clarity of your communications. Of course, these informal messages may be offensive in formal e-mails.


Robert Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Incorporated, an organization dedicated to development of leaders. He has spoken on leadership topics and the development of trust in numerous venues across the country. He is author of three leadership books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for ProfessionalsUnderstanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  His ability to communicate pragmatic approach...

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