I always preach writing work emails with a high degree of professionalism. There’s no surefire way for someone (such as your client or boss) to question your intelligence than a glaring typo, grammatical blunder, or confusing language. Worse, a well-meaning sarcastic joke or quip can easily be misinterpreted—and potentially damage your working relationships.
When striving to always write clear, clean emails, however, I find that it can be all too easy to land on the other extreme and write emails that are so serious and buttoned up that all personality is lost.
Writing emails with a super serious tone or way-too-rigid structure can have the following effects on your coworkers who receive your messages:
- They may have difficulty reading the emotional element of your email’s writing. At best, they may wonder whether you’re happy or not with the current status of things. At worst, they may assume that you’re angry or upset.
- If you communicate with certain people predominantly via email, it will take some time for them to feel that they know you and your personality. It may take a longer to develop a rapport with these people and even longer to establish loyalty.
- Some coworkers may strongly prefer to communicate with you offline. One way to tell that this is the case is that they respond to your emails with meeting invites. (Note: Some people just like to chat in person much more than with a series of written messages. It may their personality, not your writing style.)
If you tend to fall into the super-serious-email-writer category, ease up! Yes, work emails are an important element of your job and career, but ultra-formality doesn’t do you any favors. The point is to build relationships, spur productivity, and affirm your personal brand. And you can do this with more laid-back, yet professional emails.
I like to compare it to a business casual dress code: smart and polished with a go-getter attitude, but still relaxed and very you.
Here are a few tips for loosening up your email-writing style and showing some more of that lovely personality:
- Most important: Adopt a more conversational tone! Try to write a bit more like you speak. This may mean shortening up sentences, losing certain phrases that you’d never say aloud (such as “per your request”), or sprinkling in some phrases that you say, but wouldn’t necessarily write in a more formal document (such as “No prob” or “Woohoo!”).
- Use the formal introduction only when necessary. I’m a fan of addressing who you’re writing in every email (I think everyone enjoys a simple, “Hi” and being referred to by name), but you may decide that you don’t need to do this for every single email, including replies. By dropping these formalities, your messages will be a bit more casual.
- Use a unique sign off. Just as with a formal introduction, you don’t always need to sign off your emails, but if you chose to do so, think about using a more interesting one that shows your personality. Be sure to check out this Forbes article for some examples of great sign-offs, as well as others that miss the mark.
- Express your gratitude. Most of us are thankful for someone’s work, insight, or help every single day (if not more frequently). A great way to make your emails a bit more cordial and friendly is to make a point of thanking others as frequently as possible.
(This post was first published in June 2014.)