How to get the answers you want over email, according to an expert

More time than ever is being spent writing emails during the coronavirus pandemic, but as one expert points out, few of us are actually trained to use it effectively.  

Even before the remote working brought on by Covid-19, people were clocking up a huge amount of time on email — six years over the course of a lifetime on average, in fact. 

This was according to a study by software giant Adobe in 2019, referred to by business and marketing consultant Kim Arnold in her book “Email Attraction: Get what you want every time you hit send.” That is longer than time spent eating, socializing or going on holiday, over the course of a lifetime, Arnold highlighted. 

Despite this, she pointed out that no one actually gets formal training on how to write emails. And with enthusiasm for video calls waning, getting email right has never been more important. 

Indeed, Arnold told CNBC via telephone that email has been a bit of an “unsung hero” amid the pandemic, while videoconferencing app Zoom had been considered the “poster child” for communicating virtually over the past year. 

“We don’t really acknowledge what a powerful tool it can be, particularly at the moment,” she said. 

Historically, Arnold explained that workers have used email to mainly exchange information, but that it is now also being used to build professional relationships in the absence of face-to-face meetings.

With that in mind, Arnold shared the following tips for crafting the perfect email to start productive workplace conversations. 

Create a connection

People tend to go on “autopilot” when sending emails, said Arnold, speedily firing out messages without really engaging our brains.

“Actually, we don’t create connections like that and when we are working remotely we need to create those connections,” she said, describing email as a “conversation with a pause.”

She advised people to imagine what the first thing they would say if the person they are emailing were sat opposite them.

“Quite often we find that it’s not something like ‘I hope this email finds you safe and well’ or ‘please find attached the aforementioned report’,” she said.

Instead, she encouraged people to write more conversationally, even by starting with something as simple as “how are you?” and keeping in mind that we should “write to connect, we’re not writing to impress.”

In her book, Arnold also recommended avoiding opening phrases like “I’m writing to introduce myself…,” which focus too much on the sender.

An example that she gives of a more effective opener that focuses more on the recipient would be: “Your LinkedIn article on strengthening client relationships got me thinking.”

Spending a few seconds before writing the email to think about who the recipient is, what you want to happen after the email, and why they could care, should “skyrocket the chances of your email being opened and replied to,” she said.

Clear calls to action

One of Arnold’s biggest pieces of advice was to make sure every email has a call-to-action, that is “100% clear on the one thing you want that person to do next.”

All too often, Arnold said, people bury what they really want in an email, for fear of coming across as too direct or imposing on someone else’s time. She said that being clear and specific about what we want and giving a deadline, is actually more respectful of someone else’s time. 

“Often we say ‘do you have time?’ … ‘it would be great to discuss’ is a classic one at the end of the email but it’s so vague and then the onus is on them to check their diary to suggest dates,” she said.

Short explanations

Similarly, Arnold recommended being clear and concise with any explanations included in emails and suggested that it be around the length of a tweet to make it easily digestible for the reader.

Presentation is also key in making the email easy for the reader to digest, she said, recommending people write only 2-3 paragraphs with plenty of space between them.

“There’s a huge value to white space on the page because it allows our important words to stand out,” she explained.

Finally, Arnold said the subject line of the email should be written last, as it’s one of the most important parts of the email and is meant to entice the recipient to open it, so shouldn’t be rushed.

Don’t miss: These are the top 5 skills to learn right now, says futurist—and where to find free online courses

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