You need others to do something. The easiest way for you to communicate this request if probably via e-mail. The caution is that e-mail presents many opportunities to mis-communicate and make your job even harder. What are the best practices for using email when making a request?

Don’t start with e-mail when it’s a sensitive issue. You can certainly email the particulars later, but start with an in-person (preferable) or telephone conversation to allow for immediate two-way communication. Face-to-face is ideal because you also share nonverbals; your body language goes a long way in communicating your message, and you can also “read” others’ nonverbals to gauge their emotions and understanding.

Use e-mail’s greatest strength to your advantage. E-mail allows you to plan your message and edit it to achieve your desired results. Sadly, few people actually exercise this advantage, as evidenced by sender’s remorse- that sinking feeling you get right after you press the SEND button for that hastily-composed message. To avoid sender’s remorse, think first about what you want to achieve, put yourself in the receivers’ shoes and organize your message strategically.

Use the subject line. Give your subject line muscle with phrases like,  “Sales report: action required” or “Input needed by 7/15/10.” This informs the reader of what is required after reading.

Keep it short. Resist the urge to give lots of details. E-mail isn’t the best way to communicate vast quantities of information. Using as few words as possible, communicate your message in a way that paints a picture that everyone can understand.

Put your request up front. Don’t allow your request to get buried in the middle of the message. Keep it in the first paragraph, or people may miss it.

Use your authentic voice. Make sure your e-mail message sounds like you, not a scripted announcement. People are more open to requests when they are genuine and reflect your personality. (Well, maybe not if they don’t like the real you, but that’s another blog topic altogether.) Ideally, if you can interject a little humor, particularly at your own expense, this offsets the coldness that some perceive when communicating by email.

Note what’s going well. Making a request for action presents an opportunity to feed the team. If it’s pertinent to the issue, mention the strides made and positives actions that will set the stage for success.

Say thanks. Thank folks in advance for getting the job done, and follow up later once it’s been accomplished.

“Diamonds are forever. E-mail comes close.” Or so says June Kronholz. Countless hours are wasted trying to undo the adverse effects of a poorly written e-mail.  The reality is that some damage might be permanent. Save yourself the trouble and do it right the first time.

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!