I put this together some time ago. A compilation of things I have learned from experience and from others. The topic has come up a lot lately, so I thought I would share this with you.

Professor Albert Mehrabian’s research into verbal communication is often quoted in this simplified form:

Words – 7%,  Tone – 38% – Body Language – 55%

Email, being only words without tone and body language, leaves the reader with fewer queues for interpretation. For this reason, recommended email best practices are:

  • Email is for communication, not conversation
  • Use Email for two purposes: transmit information or schedule meetings
  • Choose your words carefully, sometimes slang words, e.g. “yeah” can be misinterpreted
  • After 1 response – pick up the phone
  • Reply only to the sender
  • Reply to all – ONLY if sender requests or the information in your reply will benefit everyone on the distribution list
  • Only put in an Email something you would want to appear on the internet, on a billboard, in the news – you get the idea
  • Don’t send an Email when you are angry – see previous bullet
  • Never negotiate via Email
  • Never send an important Email w/o an advance phone call and a follow-up phone call to discuss and prevent/correct misunderstandings
  • Be brief, most people read Emails on their IPhone, Android, etc.
  • When sending an important Email, ask someone else to read it before sending it, with three questions:
    • What would you think?
    • How would you feel?
    • What would you do?

Anything you would add?

Elisa K. Spain


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  • Jack Altschuler

    Communication is one of the most difficult things we human beings do, Elisa, and your comments explain a significant piece of why that is so. I talk about this in my Fully Alive Leadership workshops, looking into body language as the most powerful language we understand. And it’s completely absent from emails.

    Do you suppose there is anyone using email who has not gotten crosswise with someone over a misunderstood email? Likely not.

    Good on you for your cautionary words.

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