~by Pat Fontana~
What did that mean?
What did what mean?
That last email.
The one I sent last night?
Yeah, that one. You said we need to meet.
I just thought we needed to meet.
Why? What’s wrong?
Then why do we need to meet?
14 texts later . . . .
This is silly. I’m calling you.
Why? What’s wrong?
Does this exchange sound familiar? Whether you communicate through texts or emails or social media messages, the written word can be so easily misinterpreted and can cause long strings of explanatory follow-ups.
There are no emotions, no voice inflections, no facial expressions associated with the written word. Unless you use emoticons, which are usually not appropriate in a professional exchange of communication, the reader has no idea whether you are being sarcastic, are upset, or are just stating facts.
In the above example, a lot of time (and thumb energy) was wasted on something that could have been explained quite simply. The meeting was obviously not urgent or about anything devastating. So the original emailer apparently just needed to include some additional information – like what the meeting was going to cover and why they thought it was needed.
Details would have definitely helped here. Without them, the exchange spilled over into text messages and then into a phone call, with both parties feeling frustrated over something that could have been avoided with some basic words of explanation.
Before sending or posting any written communication, carefully consider what you are going to say and who is going to read it. I have a number of business associates who enjoy the “warm and fuzzy” of an inquiry introduction (“Hope you are doing well today”) and a well-wishing conclusion (“Have a wonderful day!”). There are others who won’t read past the first sentence, so all of my details need to be immediately evident. They won’t read further explanations. For example, “Let’s meet Monday to review the proposal one more time before I submit it on Tuesday.”
Know your audience. That is a time-tested piece of advice that never gets outdated, regardless of your communication method. Explain what needs to be explained, in simple terms that cannot be misinterpreted. If necessary, yes, pick up the phone and have a conversation. It may be a 20th century approach, but it still works wonders for your business communication efforts.
Oh, and don’t forget to proofread! Spelling errors, grammar errors, punctuation errors, and all the rest may seem minor, but they could make a difference in how your reader perceives you and your business – and whether your message gets conveyed correctly. That’s another topic for another day.
Are your words working for you? Pat Fontana is a business writer and communications trainer, focused on helping individuals, small business owners, and corporate leaders improve their business communication skills. She also publishes Carolina Business Woman, the newsletter for women in business in the Carolinas.