Bad Worker Series: The Poor Email Writer

There’s an easy way to immediately discredit yourself at work: Write bad emails.

Here’s one example of a poorly written email from a manager to her intern:

Hi Cecilia,
I dropped by some of the new engineers’ desks to hand out flash drives as a welcome gift. She told me you had already given her a flash drive, tablet holder, and water bottle. I was surprised you did this without talking to me, and I felt a bit embarrassed, too, because it appears as if we are not communicating and coordinating with one another. I see on the inventory log that you have also given these items to Marcus and Liz. I’m not sure I understand why you did this. Would you please help me understand? I was in my office when you dropped by to get these items, so you could have easily talked to me then. (I had incorrectly assumed they were for the seminar tomorrow.) I have requested numerous times that you communicate with me, and I WILL REPEAT MY REQUEST UNTIL YOU DO SO. You have to talk to me before giving away promotional items to anyone else in the future.
Thank you.

Wow. How many letter I’s can we fit into one email?

This email was poorly written because of a few reasons:

Too much “I.” Too much “I” in your emails screams, “Me, me, me!”

Capital letters. NEVER WRITE IN ALL CAPS.

Threatening language. Yikes — let’s hope this intern has a strong backbone! There’s really no need to sound harsh in any email. The abrasive tone can easily be interpreted as a power play, and can be dangerous for you in an office setting. No matter the situation, it’s important to make sure that your paper trails don’t paint you in a bad light.

Unnecessary details. Here, your observations, feelings, and analyses are a waste of space. This is a mistake that many people make while writing emails — sharing their thoughts, feelings, and life details. They’re not necessary here.

Unnecessary scolding. Despite the mix-up in handling promotional items in this example, the situation was actually much lighter than the email makes it out to be — especially for working with an intern!

Here’s a better way to write out this email:

Hi Cecilia,
Thanks for taking the initiative to welcome our new engineers! Tried handing out some of our company apparel to the new hires, but Daniella said you had graciously given some items to her already. We must think alike!
Would be great if you took charge of the company materials from now on. Feel free to pass by and let me know before you update the log and hand things out for events or new hires — this way we stay on the same page and I have a record of our items as well.

By removing the poor language and cutting out unimportant details (i.e. your feelings), the email is softened, placing you in a more positive light, especially as a supervisor.

No matter what email you send, use these practices:

  1. Be brief. Don’t overshare.
  2. Be encouraging. No point in scolding via email.
  3. Write like a supervisor. Providing collaborative solutions to your problems is the best way to handle miscommunication. No need to write out an entire story and ask the intern what their problem is.