With over 40% of employed Americans working online in 2018, you could say remote work — and especially remote entrepreneurship — is on the rise.
These days, people are finishing projects from bed, organizing Slack feeds in their pajamas, and even joining meetings from all over the globe. It’s no question why the idea of being tethered to a desk for 8 hours a day is slowly fading from the professional mind, and an increasing amount of visionaries are setting up shop right from their laptops.
With that shift in work-style, of course, comes a rise in email — the most favored business communication tool out there. And with that inevitable rise in email, come email blunders. Lots of them.
Why emails don’t always send the right message
In-person conversations are easy to understand; body language and vocal inflections do a lot of the talking for you. Email, on the other hand, doesn’t have the benefit of body language and inflection, which is why it’s all too easy to misunderstand. That joke you made might turn into a rude comment without your subtle eyebrow raise to accompany it. Your to-the-point attitude could come off as irritated; think “done.” versus, “done!”
It’s not just a lack of movement, stance, and vocal tones that lead to misconceptions, though. Another problem is assumptions. When you send a message and get a one word response, there’s a good chance you’ll assume they’re mad. In reality, though, they might have been trying to do you a favor by saving some time.
It’s no surprise that email miscommunication plagues the remote world, and because of that, many remote workers turn to formal advice on how to send messages that are understood — rules like getting to the point, nixing jokes, and bolding calls-to-action. But in a world where showing up at the office is often an option, traditional business-email-advice doesn’t always apply. In fact, it’s often what gets you into hot water in the first place.
A new normal for business emails
The new norm for sending business emails isn’t actually all that new. In fact, it’s been used in face-to-face communication for years. It’s called mirroring and pacing, or, in other words, matching the actions of the person you’re speaking to.
Let’s face it, we’re all naturally drawn to ourselves. It’s why we search for commonalities when meeting new people or get excited when we share a hometown connection. It’s not that we think it’ll give us more to talk about. It’s because when we like something about ourselves, we like seeing those aspects in other people, too.
Mirroring and pacing traditionally happen when you match a person’s body language, speech patterns, and even breathing. Doing so immediately makes them feel more comfortable and open. It builds a natural connection. Imagine speaking to someone who uses lots of inflection — someone whose words come out like rapid fire. And let’s say you, on the other hand, are quiet, slow, and reserved. Communicating effectively with that person would be tough.
Have you ever forced yourself to mimic someone in a situation like that, though? Where you also come off as lively, energetic, and enthusiastic? If you have, you know the outcome of the conversation is vastly different. Instead of having a conversation that leaves you feeling awkward and misunderstood, the conversation builds and flows until there’s a solid connection.
Mirroring and pacing with email
We, as an email-driven human race, struggle significantly when it comes to making sure our messages are understood. And we constantly default to outdated email practices. But if you wouldn’t respond well to a “dear sir or madam” on a job cover letter anymore (applicants can find any hiring manager’s name online these days), you certainly shouldn’t communicate using outdated email rules either.
Today, we’re more personal, and mirroring and pacing, while traditionally used face-to-face, can be put to work in your emails, too. No, you won’t be able to match a person’s body language or breathing, but you can match their general demeanor, level of enthusiasm, and speed of communication.
Take a look at how people in your company message each other. Look over their word choices, structure, and formality (or lack of). Does your team end emails with exclamation points after their “thanks?” If so, maybe withhold from ending yours in “regards, name,” which is far more cut and dry than the former. Does an employee send a smiley face with their messages? Responding with a smile of your own will show you’re happy to help.
Use mirroring and pacing to your advantage over email. When you write like the person you’re writing to does, there’s little chance they’ll misunderstand you. Face-to-face and email interactions don’t have to be all that different. If the theory behind mirroring and pacing works for one, it can for the other, too.
By sticking to these techniques instead of following a set of outdated rules for business email communication, not only will your workplace relationships be stronger, but you’ll feel a lot more understood, which is a powerful feeling. In fact, some psychologists say being understood is more meaningful than love. And when you’re working remotely — cut off from the rest of your office — feeling understood can make all the difference in the world.
Gaby Román is the founder and CEO of Coaching Bubble, an online learning resource that helps non-technical people build fully functioning apps on the Bubble platform – without ever writing a single line of code. Connect with @thegabyroman on Twitter.