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Six ways to send better emails (review of Nick Morgan’s Can You Hear Me?)

can-you-hear-me-nick-morganThis review first ran in the Dec.8 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Can You Hear Me? How to Connect With People in a Virtual World

By Nick Morgan

Harvard Business Review Presss

$39

I take pride in having never put an emoji into a work email.

Nick Morgan says it’s time to swallow my pride and start sending out smiley faces.

“Yes, they run the risk of seeming childish,” says Morgan, a communications coach and author of “Can You Hear Me?”

“But they do let the recipient know what you’re feeling. And that’s incredibly important — way more important than what you’re actually saying.”

An emoji puts some emotion back into our virtual communications and helps reduces the risk of misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

“The virtual world bleaches out human emotion and takes away one of the deep joys of human interaction — that sense of near simultaneity, when you and I are in sync, communicating effortlessly, immediately and passionately with hardly any sense at all of the distance between us.”

Morgan says virtual communications suffer five basic problems. There’s a lack of feedback, empathy, control, emotion and commitment.

“Humans crave connection and the virtual world seems endlessly social. But real connection, like decision-making, is based on emotions. Take the emotions out, and we feel alone more often than makes sense. The bonding that naturally happens when people meet face-to-face and size each other up, fall in love, find mutual interests, and so on, is lacking.

“And thus with thousands of Twitter followers, oodles of Instagram and Facebook friends, and a huge LinkedIn community, we’re still left endlessly chasing the junk food of connection online — likes, clicks and links that give us a passing thrill but no real sense of connection.”

emailYour employer won’t be shutting down the email system so Morgan has some practical fixes on how to make the best use of what he calls a messy, imperfect and overwhelming impoverished method of communication.

Lead off your email with a one sentence headline that clearly answers the “what’s in it for me” question that everyone asks when another email lands in our inbox.

Ruthlessly edit your emails. “Writing needs clarity, a point of view, a clear idea, hierarchical thinking and grace of expression.”

Practice restraint. Tell us something we don’t know but don’t tell us everything. “We only crave a little extra knowledge,” says Morgan.

Don’t send a hot email that stings with snark. Practice self-restraint. Sleep on an email before you hit send.

Never email a brick at the last minute, says Morgan. “One of the most irritating features of modern digital life is the last-minute communication.” It’s the 50-page report or PowerPoint deck that lands in your inbox at 8:30 a.m. to be discussed at the 9 a.m. team meeting. “Don’t send last-minute reading bricks to others and don’t ready them if they come from someone else. That’s a rule we all need to live by.”

And if you want and expect a response to your email? Explicitly ask for it.

Morgan also offers strategies for improving conference calls, webinars and chat sessions.

“Our very human job now is to learn to put the emotional and the memorable back into this attenuated world that has sprung up around us, the digital dragon’s teeth we have sown and that have brought us virtual convenience and speed — at far too high a price.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

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