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How to make your emails more effective

Professor Apryl Broderson shares best practices for streamlining and improving the quality of your digital communications.

By Lindsey Coulter

July 3, 2019

Hands typing on a laptop keyboard.Are you dealing with an overflowing inbox — or an uptick in confusing or unresolved emails? Apryl Brodersen, Ph.D., professor of industrial/organizational psychology, says it might be time to step away from the keyboard.

Brodersen teaches human resource management at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She also has consulted in the public and private sectors, helping companies improve workplace communication and culture. Broderson chatted with the Early Bird about the way people communicate and how email communication in particular is evolving. She also shared tips and best practices for ensuring that your professional communications hit their mark.

When email first emerged in the workplace, it was a complement or supplement to face-to-face communication; but for many organizations today, email is the default, Brodersen explained. And as technology shifts professional conversations increasingly into the digital space, it’s also shifting our communication styles.

“We’re becoming more comfortable defaulting to our social-media communication styles in our professional communications,” Brodersen said. “And people react differently to a casual- vs. professional-toned email. For example, an emoji can imply tone, giving the facial expressions that we can’t in text alone, but it can detract from the message and level of professionalism.”

She also noted that the dynamics of social-media communication — commenting, reacting, immediate responses, less conventional writing style, replying all vs. replying one, etc. — can have unintended consequences when they enter the workplace.

“Loss of formality in a response email can give the perception that the message is not important to the receiver,” Brodersen said. “That could affect organizational culture as well as interpersonal dynamics.”

Brodersen uses an example of an email exchange during her pre-MSU Denver days in the private sector. “When I was a consultant,” she said, “I made an executive decision about a client and emailed my supervisor the details. His email response was ‘fine.’ How should I have interpreted that? That lack of feedback is an example of what can be lost in an email exchange."

Brodersen adds that email is advantageous because it gives the sender time to compose a message, but that does not guarantee that the recipient will interpret the initial message correctly.

“Most times, having a conversation should be like throwing a ball back and forth; but email is more like hurling a ball at someone. They might catch it, but they might not throw it back,” she said. “Err on the side of face-to-face conversation for important topics. It also facilitates relationship-building and gives the recipient the ability to respond in real time.”

Other best practices for improving your email communications:

  • In initial emails, be clear about your intention or request.
  • Directly invite feedback or response.
  • Tailor tone and style according to the recipient.
  • Keep content brief and digestible.
  • Call out important info in bold type or bullet points.
  • Give a courtesy heads-up when forwarding or copying.

Do you have professional tips and workplace best practices to share? Email the Early Bird with your ideas today.

Topics: Best practices

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