Being direct does not mean you have to be abrasive. Being direct means being clear. When you communicate clearly, work gets done. Make it a priority to be clear, particularly when it comes to work email. Email language and the back and forth messages that often ensue can undermine your productivity, as well the productivity of your teammates. You have the ability to make email work for you. Here are five tips to help you be more direct in your written communications at work:
1. Ask a question if you need an answer.
Questions beg answers. Reserve questions for information you need from the recipient. Use statements only for information you want to share but to which you don’t need an answer.
To illustrate, write, “Who is working on the statistical analysis? I need to reach out to them so I have a sense of the numbers as I start writing the report. Thank you.” Here, the critical information you need is the name of a person so that you can connect with the person to move forward with the work. The rest of the information is contextual.
2. Use the word “would,” not “could.”
Try not to say, for instance, “Could you make an introduction?” The recipient or anyone could do it. You want the person to actually do it, so instead say, “Would you make an introduction?”
3. Avoid the word “might.”
People tend to use the word “might” to soften a request, but words like “might” may not help you to achieve your goal. That is, by being too deferential, you may be losing your opportunity to get the information you need to move forward.
Don’t say, “Might you be able to point me in the right direction?” Say, “Would you point me in the right direction?” Even better, “Would you direct me to the appropriate person overseeing the project?” You can still be polite without overdoing it.
4. Provide a deadline.
If you need information by a certain time, give a date in which you need a response. Without a deadline, you either may never receive a response or receive the information too late. Say, for example, “Please let me know by Dec. 20 of any feedback.”
5. Let your question or statement stand alone.
Make it easy for the recipient to visually see the information you want them to see. Set that question or statement apart from the rest of the message by placing it on its own line in the email with space around it. Even better, do it in a separate email so that it is not cluttered with other information.
Be careful with using bold font or underlining your question or statement. Unless you know the recipient well and their communication style and depending on your position, doing this may be too much.
It benefits everyone when you are clear. Be direct. Reserve questions to retrieve information, avoid words like “might” and “could,” use deadlines and make your question or statement stand out.
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