Understanding How We Use Email
Here’s why: wisely or unwisely, we have embraced this medium to communicate important things, and the devil-may-care informality inherent in its use inspires us not to worry about typos and grammatical slips and bloated phrases, even as we use it to develop business, assuage clients, and convince regulatory agencies.
Remember that each of us has three vocabularies:
1. Our reading or comprehension vocabulary – by far the largest;
2. Our writing vocabulary – in the middle; and
3. Our speaking vocabulary – the smallest and least grammatical.
When speaking, we use, and tolerate (to a point) others using, ers and uhs and sos and wells and likes, and confusing who with whom and lay with lie because most of us can’t think fast enough when we speak to get it all grammatically correct; plus we have tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language to help us communicate. Our writing must be more precise than our speech because we have only words to convey our meaning.
Email is a weird hybrid existing between speaking and writing. In that gap, our email mindset might be loose and informal, but our business recipients do not forgive our typos, grammatical slips, and bloated, unnecessary, abstract, sometimes nonsensical phrasing. That’s where the tension lies: we write it as though the message is impermanent; they judge it and us as though it’s permanent.
If we’re to use email to communicate without embarrassing ourselves in front of colleagues and clients, we must understand that tension between the mindsets of permanence and impermanence and err on the side of precision.
For the next three weeks, we will explore how to communicate effectively in email, from addressing to editing to signing off.
Stay tuned next week for Guess Who’s Coming to Email (Act II of IV).