Communicating Your Competence Through Email

Although most people in business wouldn’t consider themselves professional writers, the reality is regardless if we’re authors or bankers, writing plays a central role in our professional lives, particularly when it comes to email communication. More often than not, email is the most preferred mode of communication nowadays and contact with clients, vendors, or other business professionals may often be primarily through the written word.

When I was working as a reporter covering city government, I was reminded of the importance of maintaining professionalism in emails. Although I wrote for a living, and consider myself to have a strong command of grammar and spelling, I did (and still do) fall into the habit of becoming relaxed and comfortable in email, especially if I had an established relationship with someone. Instead of a usual stuffy greeting, I slipped into more casual “Hey So-and-So” or would skip a greeting and signature altogether and just snap off a quick question “Got time to talk today about the budget projections? Thanks.”

Although it was great that I felt a level of comfort with my e-mail recipients, I also lost a level of professionalism. I didn’t consider this until an email a local professional sent to a city official was used as supporting documentation in a City Council agenda. There were curt sentences, a smiley face, and a personal note: “I thought your hair looked great today.” There were no glaring spelling or grammatical errors, but despite the professional nature of the email, the casual tone was all I could focus on, and immediately the sender lost credibility. It gave me pause to think what my impression of myself would be if I scanned through emails I had sent.. In an effort to be personable, I would probably lose the perception of professionalism.

Most people probably pay attention to spelling and punctuation in emails. But there’s a higher level of scrutiny we should look for in our written communication. Even if we’re not emailing public officials some of us have had the experience of emailing someone, and having that email forwarded to a long chain of people. Some of us have even been so unfortunate as to have sent emails to the wrong recipient, or hit “reply all” when we wanted the message to go to one person. Bearing that in mind, emails should always be written as though they are going to be seen by presidents of companies, employers, or end up on the desks of potential clients. You never know where your words might end up, or how they might reflect on your credentials.

This recent article posted by Forbes, offers a few tips on emails to keep you always sounding sharp:

  • Always write a personalized salutation and a signature line
  • Always ensure that spelling and punctuation is accurate
  • Avoid shorthand and texting language
  • Avoid using e-mail to provide “constructive criticism” or to discuss more serious matters.
  • Never write multiple emails at one time – multiple windows can create confusion
  • Avoid using e-mail to discuss issues among several people.
  • Use the words urgent and important sparingly, and only when they are true.
  • Always keep the message short and succinct.

About the Author

+Toni Scott is a consultant with Morrison, providing business valuations, business planning (including budgeting, cash flow forecasting, strategic planning), feasibility studies, interim executive CFO services, competitive grant writing and special projects that don't fit into any conventional category. You can contact Toni directly at tscott@morrisonco.net or via telephone at 530-893-4764 ext. 205.

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