Joyce Welsh.pngYou know that old adage: “It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It”?  Clearly, that sage advice never anticipated the world of email that we now live in.  Email is awesome and I use it all day long. In fact, I could not function without it.

But… it has a major flaw – it can be tone deaf.

Oftentimes, the tone is left up to the interpretation of the reader. This can be a huge roadblock when building relationship capital or it can unravel months of positive relationship building. It can also make your life miserable if you have to pick up the pieces after a nasty email exchange.

I’m sure you have encountered the same thing. Either you have received an email that makes your furious, or you are copied on an email exchange and you cringe from the tone, only to find out that at times the email’s intended tone was not what came across.

My colleagues and I have developed some habits to ensure that we can get our points across in the best possible way, while continuing to invest in the important business relationships we have worked so hard to build.

Quick and Easy Tips for Managing Email

Joyce Welsh Email is Tone DeafPick up the phone

Phone then email to document what was discussed or agreed: When communicating with customers my boss would also say, pick up the phone first and then document the communication with an email second especially if you don’t speak with them often. I resisted his suggestions because email was so much more efficient and I didn’t waste time leaving voicemails. What I learned (the hard way), was that my emails were not building the rapport that was needed especially when the customer was having an issue or when they were making a purchase decision.  Eventually I took his advice, used a scheduler to set up the calls and the difference has been incredible. Plus I get to speak with our customers more often which I always enjoy.

Contentious Emails: One of the biggest benefits of email is efficiency. However, if you have something contentious to discuss and you put it in email, I can almost guarantee that it will take you far longer to unwind the bad feelings it might create. If your email will potentially cause issues, it won’t be more efficient. Instead of email, pick up the phone.

You can also use these practices if an email trail is getting way off course. As soon as the email conversation takes a turn for the worse, pick up the phone.

Maximum number of email exchanges on one topic

Some companies have a 5 email max. If you can’t come to an understanding in 5 emails, pick up the phone.

Can you read the email without reacting?

Before you hit SEND, read your email paying attention to your physical and emotional reactions.

If you can’t read your own email without contracting or it brings up your frustration, then reconsider sending it. Maybe it needs to be reworded. If you get upset writing it, you can only imagine how the receiver will react when reading it.

Send the email to yourself first

What if you are really upset and just can’t calm down? Set up a new, separate email and address it to yourself. Say everything you want to say. Warning – do not address it to the person you are frustrated with in case it sends in error! Vent all your frustrations and get it out of your system. Then go back to your original email and see if you can reword it in a productive way.

Note: When we are upset, the amygdala can kick in. I find it far harder to figure a creative solution when I am upset. If I relax, the ideas then begin to flow more freely.

Could you send this to your best friend?

Another test before you hit SEND. Pretend you are sending the email to your child, your parent, or your best friend. Would you speak to them this way? How could you reword it so that it builds rapport rather than destroying it?

Save it for tomorrow

If you realize your email is going south, STOP. Put it away and save it for tomorrow. After a good night’s rest, you might come back with a different perspective.

Many times, I come back with a creative solution I wasn’t able to think of when I was angry (contracted).


What if you have a deadline, or something just has to get done today? Get up from your desk, take a walk and clear your head. It is never worth it to send a challenging email without first giving it some thought. Or Pick Up The Phone (see #1).

Clean up after yourself

I wish I could say I always follow these guidelines. I’ve sent my share of regrettable emails. Each time I do, I am reminded of the damage I can cause with a thoughtless, impulsive communication. These painful experiences remind me to pause before hitting send.

Use email for all its wonderful purposes, but remember that sometimes YOU are what the situation really needs. Your biggest asset is YOU! And regardless of any of these methods you might employ, never remove your authentic voice from your communications.
Joyce Welsh is the CFO of BrightWork, a member of the CFOLC Boston chapter and an active blog contributor.  To read more of her recent thought pieces, visit

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