Lost in translation: 3 secrets for effective email communication

by Betty Lochner on April 6, 2011

In our online world, we often find ourselves communicating with email more than we do face-to-face.  And, a lot can be lost in the translation.

Quite simply, email is flat – it doesn’t give tone, inflection or word emphasis.

For example, how would you interpret the following message:

“You better watch it.”

Sarcasm? Anger? Joking? Correction? Friendly advice?  Even, when read in context, your message can easily get lost or misunderstood if you don’t take steps to use email effectively.

Here’s Secret #1:  Start with a nice greeting!

You wouldn’t pick up the phone and just start talking would you? Probably not (unless you are a smart-alec teenager).  You would say “hello” at the very least.

How you start your email is critical to setting the tone – and often overlooked. So, always, begin your email with a nice greeting. Even if the subject is brief or to the point, be polite and courteous first. A simple, “Hi, Betty” works (unless they aren’t named Betty, then substitute their name).

Secret #2: Stay kind.

Don’t start with a question or demand.  You will set the tone as bossy or demanding and people will cringe when they see you in their in-box. Certainly, not the best way to get what you need.

Say away from sarcasm, jokes, and any kind of emotions. They can be easily misinterpreted and cause huge unintended communication problems.

Email should not be used to deliver bad news, argue, criticize or otherwise be cranky.  Use the phone or in person for anything other than sharing information, updates, or happy stuff.

Secret #3: Less is more.

Keep it brief and to the point. And, for heaven’s sake don’t make people read through strings of attachments.  When an email becomes a back and forth discussion it is much better to use the phone meet face-to-face. And, don’t get all “cc” happy. Copy only those who really need to be in the loop.

Happy Tone Works

If you follow these three secrets, you are on your way to better communication. Simple, but it really works.  See how happy the girl in the photo looks!  She’s reading a happy toned email!

Do you have other email communication secrets? Please comment below!


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of  Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home. And, it’s now available on Kindle! Check it out.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Betty Lochner April 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Thanks, Shannon. I’m glad you found it helpful!

2 shannon Torgerson April 26, 2011 at 10:03 am

Hi Betty,
This article is very helpful, and I think it will really help us with better communication at our company. I will be passing this on.

Thank you!

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