Email - a short cut to winding up your colleagues?
Email communication is notoriously prone to misunderstanding. Deceptively informal, it lacks the richness of face-to-face communication. I’ve just experienced this myself (again): I sent what I thought was a clear and straightforward email, which was perceived by the recipient as pointed and critical. It has taken several voice-to-voice conversations to clarify and mend fences. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get to avoid my emails causing conflict and confusion.
Should emails be business-like or chatty? Short and to the point, long and detailed, or somewhere between the two? When writing emails, it is tempting to compose them in the style we prefer to receive ourselves. However, it is dangerous to assume that the way we communicate is the way others like to be communicated with. We all know people who like to talk on the phone for hours, along with those who think that a call of more than 30 seconds is time wasted. Similarly, individuals have distinct preferences when it comes to email.
To get your message across with minimum confusion, consider flexing your style to fit with others’ MBTI type preferences. Here are some suggestions for each of the preference pairs.
People with a Sensing and Thinking preference like emails that:
- Specify the main points of the message. Bullet points work.
- Start with the purpose: what will the practical benefits be? What do you want the person to do? When and where?
- Get to the point. Don’t be vague, and keep it brief. If they can’t see all the text when they open the email, it’s too long.
Those who prefer Sensing and Feeling want those who correspond with them to:
- Take a moment to start the email with something that shows you remember who they are.
- Give them the details. Make it clear how they can help you. Be honest.
- Offer face-to-face or voice-to-voice connection on important matters.
Those who prefer INtuition and Feeling want others to:
- Give them the wider context that the email subject fits into, even if it makes the email longer.
- Be authentic. Tell them why the subject matters and help them find common ground with you.
- Avoid raising criticisms of them or things they care about in an (impersonal) email
Intuitive Thinkers like emails that:
- Give the strategic context and why the issue matters, painting the big picture concisely.
- Don’t ramble or give unnecessary padding, but draw inferences and give the “so what”.
- Excite them with ideas and future possibilities, and ask for their input.
The MBTI can help us maintain perspective when an email we receive jars and annoys. Think about the preferences of the person who sent the email. Are we drawing conclusions on motive from style? If so, it’s best to pick up the phone to check it out, rather than respond with hurt feelings or indignation.
All this is tricky enough when people are not under pressure. The opportunity for misunderstanding ratchets up when the email sender is having a bad day. Here’s how emails may come across when people with these preference pairs are under stress.
When Sensing and Thinking people are under stress their emails can come across as:
- Blunt, impersonal and even cold or rude.
- Not inviting ideas or collaboration. Bossy, ignoring personal relationships.
- Providing detail without communicating why the issue matters or drawing inferences.
On a bad day emails from people preferring Sensing and Feeling can give the impression of:
- Giving too much detail and ignoring larger, strategic issues.
- Being “Pollyanna-ish”, not seeing problems and glossing over or fudging negative issues.
- Being too friendly and personal too soon, and therefore intrusive. Worrying about issues (the wrong ones) on others’ behalf.
INtuition and Feeling emailers under stress can seem:
- Rambling and vague, giving too much context, making too many connections.
- Unable to acknowledge realities, overly optimistic.
- Too intense and passionately idealistic.
Stressed INtuition and Thinking writers can come across as:
- Overly complex and theoretical. Too optimistic and ambitious – not in touch with the constraints of the real world.
- Intellectually arrogant, lecturing and blunt.
- Wanting to personally “win” debates. Doesn’t suffer fools, denigrates others’ ideas and perspectives.
Email is an invaluable form of communication and is here to stay. However, given the speed with which we tend to write and respond to email, it doesn’t always convey our intentions effectively. Thinking about the type preferences of the people you want to communicate with can help maximise your effectiveness. Hopefully, using what we know about the MBTI can help us cut each other some more slack.