We are all working in an environment where we spend a lot of time in reading and replying to e-mails and it's safe to say that if we can be effective in our e-mail conversations, we can end up saving a good amount of time.

We may have to convey a negative news through an e-mail - for example, tell a client about a potential delay or missed deadline or inform your team about changes that may result in major rework etc. - and we often find ourselves fumbling for the right words.

Following are simple tips to keep in mind to avoid negative tone in e-mail conversations.

1. Avoid negative words in a subject line.

We do not want to send out an e-mail with a subject line that recipient(s) feel like avoiding. Think about your own reaction on e-mails with negative subject lines; do you even feel like opening them?

Example, instead of a subject line that says ‘Delay in ABC project schedule,’ the subject line can be ‘Changes in ABC project schedule.’

2. Follow reader-centric attitude.

Be personable, but always think about the recipient(s) of your e-mail while writing your subject line, greeting and content. If you are writing something of key importance, always try to anticipate the response from recipient(s) and the expected/targeted response.

ExampleIf you are telling a client about a delay schedule and if the client is a business owner with little tolerance towards technology, make sure that while you provide the reasons for the delay, your explanation can be understood by the client. Imagine being that person where you are reported with a project delay and you cannot even understand the reasons behind it; it would leave you exasperated. Keep it simple.

3. Avoid extreme adjectives.

Avoid using extreme adjectives in business e-mails; there is no need to give away emotions or feelings. You want to sound composed. The key here is to be personable but professional.

Avoid phrases like: It is really unfortunate / I deeply regret to break this news / there is a huge effort involved / it is too late / it is extremely urgent...

4. Avoid negative words.

As much as possible, avoid using negative words in your e-mails. They can scare off the audience or create unnecessary tension on the business relationships. Be aware of perceptions. Following are a few words you should try to avoid:

Never, unavoidable, uncertain, fear, mistakes, problems, irresponsible, unfortunate, bad, faults, delay, limited, failure, neglect, difficult/difficulties, hesitate, trouble, unclear

5. Use positive phrasing to convey negative news.

Consider how receptive you are to the negative news. You definitely do not want it in you inbox and these e-mails do not give you any good feeling, so turn negative tone into a positive tone.

The following table gives examples of how can we achieve it:

Negative

Positive

The problem we have at hand is…

The situation we have at hand is…

We must implement the first solution.

We should prefer to implement the first solution.

I am unable to provide the report before Wednesday afternoon.

I would provide the report at the earliest by Wednesday afternoon.


6.
 Don’t break the negative news right at the start or right at the end.

You do not want to break negative news in your first sentence or the last. Provide a context to the news, give reasons and then give the bad news. Consider placing the negative news in the middle of the e-mail. We do not want to throw the news or hide it; we want to give the news with sufficient ground. After breaking the bad news, always talk about the alternatives and the good will. By offering alternatives and solutions, you are being pro-active and helpful. The key to keep in mind while offering alternatives is: do not over promise and be realistic with your solutions.

7. Describe what can be done instead of what cannot be done.

Nothing can be gained by telling people what they cannot do or what cannot be done. Instead, be constructive and focus on what can be done. Instead of talking about the limitations or constraints, talk about possibilities and opportunities. Instead of talking about faults, talk about differences.

8. No blame game.

You do not want to be the person in an e-mail thread pointing fingers. You can actually make use of passive voice while referring to an unhappy incident or a mistake, as it conveys the meaning with subtlety.

Negative

Positive

You did not submit the report this week.

The report was not submitted this week/I did not receive the report this week.

They failed to meet the deadline for submitting quotes.

The deadline for submitting quotes has been missed.


9.
 Be pro-active in your e-mail conversations.

This is again built on our very first point – follow reader-centric attitude and anticipate the response from the email recipient(s). Instead of having back and forth e-mail correspondence and waiting for people to request for action items, be pro-active and offer what the user might want. This will also reduce the number of e-mails you need to respond to.

10. Always re-read your e-mails before hitting send.

Skim through your composed e-mail before hitting send. Also, check to make sure your recipient’s list is correct before the e-mail goes out. Check if the content would generate the right kind of response/impact: news/information acknowledged, action taken, immediate response, request being functioned.

We do want to be effective, personable and professional in our e-mail communication, and it is about developing a mindset and simple practices.
 

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Yogeshree Tawde is a business technology consultant with Deloitte Consulting, who has a passion for business technology integration. Specializing in business process modeling, she collaborates with clients to create deliverables to help them capture changing business processes during large technology transformation projects. As client communication is a significant part of her job, she enjoys sharing her experiences and ideas on effective communication and how it can help to build stronger client relationships. Yogeshree believes that intellect, dedication, and hard work are key to being successful but, that it’s a positive attitude which sets one apart. You can follow her on LinkedIn here

 

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