Effective Email Communication At Work: Are Your Emails Offensive?

Are you using effective email communication at work? Or could you potentially be sending offensive emails?

When my client Sarah logged on for our weekly Zoom call, I could see she was visibly upset. Her 360 staff review had come back, and it showed that coworkers find her condescending. No matter how long she thought about it, she couldn’t understand it. 

She was speaking with real hurt in her voice as she expressed to me how hard she tries to be nice. Convinced there must be a mistake on the 360 review, she opened it again to look it over with me as a screen share. Yep, there was no mistake. People saw Sarah as condescending.

She had two choices. The first choice was to remain upset and angry. To stay in her own perspective and refuse to accept this as a possible truth.

Her second choice was to own it and discuss it at her next coaching call. And that’s exactly what she did. 

Effective Email Communication At Work

Sarah is a scientist. She’s used to being specific and to the point. But that doesn’t make her condescending… does it? Sarah went on to tell me she’s often irritated when she has to explain things five times to people. 

Why don’t they get it? Why am I always having to go back and explain it again? Why do I have to follow up on every project every day? I’m exhausted!  

“Whoa… Sarah,” I said. ”Let’s slow down. Let’s take a look at how you’re communicating with others.”  We were on a video call so I could see that eye roll she gave me. Sarah was sure that the problem wasn’t her. 

I explained to Sarah that like most of us, she was working with blinders on. She’s viewing the world from the perspective of a scientist. But not everyone she communicates with thinks the same way. 

Then I asked Sarah to forward a recent email that she’d sent. I told her to pick any email that she’d recently written. But it had to be to a person who was not a scientist. They could be in marketing or accounting or HR. Anyone but a scientist.  This was our chance to take a closer look at her communication through email in the workplace.

She chose an email that she’d recently sent to some folks in the marketing department. I shared my screen, and we talked about what was happening in the email. 

I read the first three lines of the email and told her she’d already lost her audience. She looked at me in a confused way; so instead of trying to tell her, I decided to show her what I meant.

The readability of your content

I opened one of my favorite FREE writing tools of all time, Hemingway Editor. It’s an amazing, free program that shows you the readability of your content. I ask my clients to use it regularly. Not only when writing professional papers or briefs but while writing emails too. 

While still screen sharing with Sarah, I pasted the content of her email into Hemingway. 

Here’s what she found… Her email contained 1,067 words. Who has time to read 1,067 words on a Monday morning? Without realizing it, she wrote the email at a post-graduate level and 24 out of 34 sentences were ‘hard to read.’ 

Yes, friends, this can feel condescending to the reader. Sarah burst out laughing. She had no idea she was communicating in this way. It seemed natural to her but seeing it now, it made perfect sense. 

Even Hemingway told her to aim for a grade level 14. That means the editor software assumed she was writing for postgraduate readers. It assumed it was a scientific research paper. Not an email. 

And here’s some scary news. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average American can’t read above the 8th-grade level. 

Imagine yourself as an average American receiving Sarah’s email. Of course she sounded condescending. 

Beyond improving email communication skills

Sarah adopted the daily use of Hemingway for effective email communication at work. She also considered her verbal and in-person communication as well. She made appropriate changes.

Even though she’s months away from her next 360, Sarah knows she’s on track to have much better results. 

Remember, your communication isn’t about you. It’s about your reader. You’ll love the Hemingway Editor as you practice getting on track to writing effective emails in the workplace

This blog post sounds like a sales pitch for Hemingway Editor. But I promise it’s not. In fact, it doesn’t cost anything. So go ahead and have fun. Download it and improve your corporate communication starting right now!

Hey, I get that navigating politics and communication can be difficult. That’s why I love working with my clients. I serve as their personal sanity check and go-to pro for solving day-to-day problems. Executive coaching isn’t about remedial fixes for those barely hanging on. It’s for the professional who wants to leverage their time, skills, and opportunities in an effective way. 

If it sounds like it might be for you, let’s talk. You can schedule a free call with me here.  

Cynthia Corsetti is an Executive and Career Coach. Whether you’re looking for a career transition or to make a bigger impact in your current career, Cynthia is the partner you’re looking for. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.


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