Friday, May 15, 2009

The Elegant Email: Ten Tips To Help You Communicate More Effectively

As First Published in The Wisdom Of Communication: A Collection of Writings That Can Change Your Life

Is the Elegant Email a paradox or a realistic goal? Is every email we send an opportunity to forget who we are or is it another way of showing people who we are? If the “sent email” is representative of who we truly are, then it is time to think about the message we want our emails to communicate before we hit SEND!

Elegant is defined as, “gracefully refined and dignified, as in tastes, habits or literary style; excellent, fine or superior; simplicity in execution, simple and precise.” The Elegant Email is well designed, intentional and strategic. The goal of the Elegant Email is to communicate information clearly, without intricacy and uncompounded by emotion that may likely be misconstrued.
In the frenetic world we live in, with virtual mailboxes overloaded, blackberries buzzing and little time for thinking before speaking, even fewer are thinking before sending. While we all know that we should, include a “subject” that is relevant in the heading, omit slang, capital letters, bold and exclamation marks to emphasize or yell. Use spell check, double check who we are replying to, and eliminate the use of BCC to bully. There are many things we fail to consider before we hit send and end up in cyber chaos. Here are some guidelines to help you put your best email forward and show the world that you are elegant, even when you land in their inbox.

  1. Define the goal of your message before writing your email. Does your email achieve that goal? Edit extraneous information that does not serve the goal of the email.
  2. Be aware of tone and err on the side on neutral. Sarcasm, irony and humor can be easily misconstrued. The use of point form supports a neutral approach and is particularly useful with emails of confrontational or challenging nature.
  3. Tease the email through an “emotion filter.” Does the email sound like it comes from the head or the heart? Ask yourself if this email is written from the place it is coming from, and if it is coming from the place it was written.
  4. If your email is filled with emotion, is it appropriate in the circumstances? Filter your response through # 1 and ensure that you are serving your identified goal.
  5. Is email the appropriate modality of communication? Do not forget that telephone calls and face-to-face meetings are still in style and may be more suitable in many situations.
  6. Consider the pros and cons of writing an email versus having a conversation. Ask yourself if you are forgoing elegance for efficiency and evaluate the costs and benefits of your chosen form of communication.
  7. Read the email before sending and if needed, sleep on it. If the email was written from a place of anger, frustration, or any other heightened sense of emotion, save it as a “Draft” and revisit. The distance will help ensure your email is appropriate.
  8. Imagine you are the receiver of the email and reread the email from that perspective. Remember that you will not be at the receiver’s side to explain and interpret the email.
  9. Ask yourself the following question: “Is this email acceptable for the world to see?” Remind yourself that the world may see your email so, “Smile, you’re on candid camera!” Your audience may include your boss, board of directors, spouse, ex-spouse, lawyer, judge, friends and family.
  10. Ask yourself the following question: Does this email represent my best attempt at communicating clearly, elegantly and respectfully? If the answer is No, go back to Step One and rewrite. If the answer is yes, proudly press send.
Embrace your ability to email elegantly and practice a conscious form of communication in the cyber world. You may find your Drafts outnumber your Sent Messages, your phone may become your new best friend or you may go for rapport over the Reply. Either way, your elegant emails will be a model for those receiving your messages to respond in kind. With the touch of a button you will have changed the world.


  1. Good advice. The trouble with e-mails is they inevitably sound more stark and abrupt than intended.

  2. Good advice. The trouble with e-mails is they inevitably sound more stark and abrupt than intended.