What Do Your E-mail Messages Say About You?

Last night, Gail and I went to local production of the play, “My Fair Lady.” I am embarrassed to admit that I have never seen it. I had seen clips from the movie, but I had never the watched the entire thing.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/goodynewshoes, Image #5084587

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/goodynewshoes

The reason I went is that Matt Baugher, one of our Thomas Nelson Vice Presidents, was starring in the lead role of Henry Higgins. I was blown away by his performance. He sang, danced, and spoke with an English accent. I was completely swept up in the story and forgot that Matt is a colleague and dear friend.

The story itself is fascinating. The version that we saw is based on George Bernard Shaw’s play and Gabriel Pascal’s movie Pygmalion, with book, music and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. It is a story about Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, who takes on the challenge of transforming Eliza Doolittle, a common cockney flower girl, into a duchess.

Higgins particular expertise was that he could listen to someone speak and tell precisely where they were raised. Based on their diction, grammar, and accent, he claimed that he could determine their hometown or county of origin within six miles.

What does all of this have to do with e-mail? Plenty.

Every time you communicate, you are making a “brand impression”—for you—and for the organization you represent. What kind of impression are you making? Is it positive or negative?

I want to focus for a few moments on e-mail, since for most of us that comprises 90% of our communication today.

Here are five ways to make a positive impression with your e-mail messages:

  1. Respond in a timely manner. I can’t overstate the importance of this. As I have said elsewhere, to whatever extent I have been successful, it is due in large part to the fact that I am generally very responsive. My goal is to respond to all e-mails the same day I receive them.
  2. Address the sender personally. Don’t just start writing. Use the person’s name. Nothing is sweeter to the recipient’s ear than their own name. And in the age of unprecedented spam, using a person’s name indicates that you are a real person, not a robot.
  3. Use proper grammar. You don’t have to obsess about this, but observe the basics: use complete sentences, check your punctuation and spelling, and proofread your message. And please, don’t use ALL CAPS. If you are feeling a little insecure about this, I highly recommend that you read a basic English grammar book, like English Grammar for Dummies.
  4. Keep the message short and your intention clear. As a recipient, there is nothing worse than receiving a long message from someone, reading it, and still not knowing what the person wants or is saying. When in doubt, use short sentences, short paragraphs, and short messages.
  5. Use a proper signature block. Use your e-mail program to create a standardized, e-mail signature that includes your full name, logo, company, address, telephone numbers, website or blog, twitter handle, etc. In my opinion, it should be simple but professional.

You may not have to impress a professor of phonetics, but your peers, subordinates, superiors, and external business associates will still come to conclusions about you, based on your oral and written communication skills. Therefore, it is worth taking time to improve these skills and become intentional about how you communicate.

Question: What else should you do to make a positive brand impression with your e-mail messages? What should you avoid? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Deborah H. Bateman

    Michael, thanks for sharing your helpful tips about E-mail messages.