The science of emails #2: get over yourself

More than any other type of comms, emails run the risk of coming across the wrong way. And when it comes to communicating about coronavirus, the particular words we choose matter more than ever.


We recently ran a webinar where we shared three psychological effects that come into play when we’re writing and reading emails. And the tips to overcome them.

Here, we’ve summed up all the good stuff in three blogs. Find the first blog in the series here.

#2 Get over yourself

No doubt we’ve all had the experience of getting an email that sounds curt or cross or, perhaps most commonly, passive aggressive. But when you meet the sender in person, they’re a ray of sunshine – nothing like how they came across in your inbox.

This is the egocentrism issue at work

Daniel Goleman puts it nicely in this New York Times article: ‘Sitting alone in a cubicle or basement writing e-mail, the sender internally “hears” emotional overtones, though none of these cues will be sensed by the recipient.’

As writers, we imagine our readers read our messages exactly as we mean them to. And we struggle to see past ourselves, to think about how they’ll land with the reader.

The result is what we call ‘selfie-speak’

Inward-looking writing that’s more about the sender than it is about the receiver. You’ll have seen plenty of it about in recent weeks as businesses scramble to show that they’re responding to coronavirus in the right way.

Here’s British Airways at it.

It’s probably meant to sound earnest and reassuring, but it comes off as self-involved and lacking in relevant information.

The tricks to avoiding the egocentrism issue

  1. Think about your reader, and frame your message in terms of what they need.
  2. Think two steps ahead – answer your reader’s questions before they’ve asked them.
  3. Count the personal pronouns in your email. If there are more ‘we’s or ‘I’s than ‘you’s, chances are you’re not focussed enough on your reader.

Next up in this series, we’re looking at how to get around the neutrality and negativity effects.

If your words need work, get in touch with us at hello@thewriter.com

 


 

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