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Motivating People: Using Emails Within a Virtual Environment

Motivating people isn’t easy no matter what position you hold in the company. There is an old Japanese proverb which says ‘the bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.’

A common mistake

I was reminded of this recently when working with a client who was responsible for communicating a company-wide change. He needed colleagues in three different global locations to log in to an existing system and perform a task before the system could be replaced with a different, better tool.  It would take them 5 minutes. The most efficient way to communicate this request? Email of course. Easy he thought….wrong I’m afraid.
The first email he sent was a masterpiece of clarity and politeness. It laid out beautifully what was changing and how. The instructions were clear and easily understandable, (even when put through an online translator tool and back. Trust me, he tested that). There were six weeks until the deadline for the switch to the new tool, plenty of time.

The countdown began….
Four weeks before the deadline and two reminder emails later – only 54% of colleagues had carried out the request….
Three weeks before and another reminder, 61%….
Two weeks before and another reminder about the reminders, 69%….
One week before the deadline, another two slightly less polite but very clear reminders and still only 82% of his colleagues had carried out the request.
Why weren’t his colleagues more motivated to make the change? There was time for one last email, and this is when he came and saw me.
‘What’s wrong with my English?’ he asked me. ‘Nothing’ I said. ‘You’ve told them what will happen, you’ve simplified the technical language so even I can understand it and your instructions are clearer than those for an IKEA flat pack’. ‘So why are they so reluctant to make the change?’ he asked. ‘Simple’ I said. ‘They’re made of oak, and you want them to be bamboo.’

Realizing what your message should say

Before he thought I’d completely lost it, I told him the proverb and explained that at the moment, his colleagues were the oak trees. They knew how the old system worked and didn’t want to change to the unknown. If they were going to be like the stronger bamboo, they needed to know why they should bend. ‘That’s simple’ he said. ‘The old tool often asked you to repeat information and it could take a long time to enter data. The new tool only asks for information once and is far more accurate. Their life will be much easier. It will all be much quicker which will make their customers happy too.’
Great, that should make everyone happy, but where did it say all this in the original email? It didn’t, and there was the root of the problem, (or oak tree).
Normally, when communicating a change via email or group media, the biggest concern is making sure the ‘what’ and ‘how’ is explained as clearly as possible so people understand what they must do. It’s easy to lose focus of the motivational side, the ‘why’.

Getting results with your emails

It doesn’t matter how polite your request is, if people can’t relate it to themselves they will resist. To avoid this, try following these five simple steps:

  1. Explain what the change is
  2. Explain why it makes sense
  3. Explain why they should care about the change, (what’s in it for them)
  4. Explain how the change is going to happen
  5. Explain what you need them to do and when

Of course, these can be applied to any situation where you’re asking people to make a change, whether it’s by email or face to face; to 1,100 or 10,000 people.
By the way, the deadline was met, the new tool was launched and it has proved a success. I’m not so sure my client would be so ‘Zen’ as to say he’s now surrounded by a forest of bamboo trees, but I do know he didn’t have to send 12 reminders when he next asked people to do something.

Click here for more information on to work effectively in virtual teams.  Also, let us know in the comments areas below if you have had any similar situation in your job, and what worked for you.

Writing Emails: 20 phrases for closing an email

A common problem we hear is how writing emails in English can cost just too much time. One solution that works for many people is to begin building a “toolbox” of useful phrases.  It’s a simple idea– you just start keeping a list of common and useful expression, perhaps on your desktop or in a notebook next to your keyboard?  There’s nothing wrong with reusing some standard phrases if it helps save you time and communicate clearly. You probably already have 2 or 3 sentences you reuse again and again.

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download

20 expressions for closing an email

Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right tone. Should the closing be formal, or informal? To help you find the right words when you need them here are 20 great expressions for closing an email.  As you read through them ask yourself two simple questions:

  1. When would I use this?
  2. When will I use this?

Expressions for thanking

  1. Thank you for your help. / time / assistance / support
  2. I really appreciate the help. / time / assistance / support you’ve given me.
  3. Thank you once more for your help in this matter.

Expressions with a future focus

  1. I look forward to hearing from you soon / meeting you next Tuesday.
  2. I look forward to seeing you soon.
  3. I’m looking forward to your reply.
  4. We hope that we may continue to rely on your valued custom.
  5. We look forward to a successful working relationship in the future.
  6. Please advise as necessary.
  7. I would appreciate your immediate attention to this matter.

Expressions for showing them you want to help

  1. If I can be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
  2. If you require any further information, feel free to contact me.
  3. If you require any further information, let me know.
  4. Please feel free to contact me if you need any further information.
  5. Please let me know if you have any questions.
  6. I hope the above is useful to you.
  7. Should you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
  8. Please contact me if there are any problems.
  9. Let me know if you need anything else
  10. Drop me a line if I can do anything else for you.

You can check out more ways to improve your writing at work here.  Don’t hesitate to comment below if you have any questions or additional phrases you’ve used that work.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:

 

 

 

Writing Emails: Giving Bad News

When giving bad news in an email, it’s extremely important to communicate ideas clearly and respectfully. In the email below, Carl Lane has been forced to give his colleagues some very bad news. Mr Lane does some things well in this email, but there are also some things he can improve. Read the email, and then read our tips for giving bad news in written form.

Sample email:

Dear colleagues,

As manager of the TURN project since 2008, it has been my pleasure to share in your success and watch the development of the project from the very beginning. All of us have worked hard and shared in TURN’s success. Now, I am faced with the most difficult task I have had as manager of this project. We received this news one month ago, but wanted to wait until we felt the time was right to deliver it.

I am very sorry to inform you that the project has been canceled effective July 1st, 2013. As of then, all project positions, including assistant and secretarial, are terminated.

There are many factors involved with the cancellation of our project: our failure to secure the PX19 contract, the recent 10% increase in material cost and a 30% drop in Sales were all involved. Every employee of the company knew these developments were negative in terms of our bottom line, a fact that the Board communicated via company-wide email in December, 2012. Despite these difficult circumstances, every member of our team worked diligently to help our project succeed.

I would like to thank you for your hard work over these past five years. If you have any questions regarding this very unfortunate news, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Sincerely,
Carl Lane

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook downloadPositive points to use in your emails:

•    He writes respectfully (but not too formally). Employees should always treat each other with respect, but at a difficult time like this, it’s especially important for the team to know that their work was appreciated. It’s also important to use the correct level of formality. Too formal and you can sound rude. Not formal enough and it can seem like you’re not taking the situation seriously enough.
•    He states the reasons for the cancellation. This is major news, and the employees deserve to know the causes for the change. It should never be left to the employees to speculate about what happened.
•    He mentions written records of past performance. Mr Lane mentions the memo written by the Board in December. Even though they didn’t save the project in the end, it’s important for employees to know management was aware of the problem and working to solve it.

Things to avoid or do better in your emails:

•    He doesn’t address other people affected by the news. Mr Lane says that employee positions are canceled, but he doesn’t mention any of the other people who might be affected by the cancellation. This could include clients and investors.
•    He doesn’t mention anything positive. The news is bad and there is no hint of a future for the members of the project. Is the company possibly looking for other investors or is there a chance the project could be saved? Employees might be confused by this lack of mention of the future.
•    He didn’t deliver the news immediately. Unfortunately, Mr Lane waited to deliver the news. Perhaps the company wanted to see if the situation would improve, but the employees deserved to be informed about the situation.

Giving bad news is never easy, but by keeping the above guidelines in mind, your bad news letter can be written in an effective, respectful way. For more tips on this sensitive subject, please check out this link. Do you have something to add to this post? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:

Virtual Teams: The Importance of Saying Thank You in Emails

When I was a kid I used to love Christmas and birthdays and all the presents that came with them. The part I hated was the thank you letters my parents made me write afterwards. Of course I didn’t appreciate how necessary they were at the time,  after all I’d said thanks after tearing off all the paper, hadn’t I? But learning to show appreciation and gratitude is probably one of the best lessons parents can teach. I may not have been grateful then, but I definitely am now.

Now, working in virtual teams, I find myself offended when someone doesn’t say thank you. You answer their email, do something for them, and somehow the conversation isn’t closed with a simple thank you.

It is really only a few words, how much can it hurt to write back a couple of words to someone who has helped? In the virtual setting the normal face-to-face office environment is missing.  We therefore need to make sure that we make up for that.  So, just write a simple thank you mail. It only takes a minute and, if you use some of the phrases below, it might only take a few seconds. It will though, dramatically improve the reader’s feelings toward you– and they might be that much happier to help next time.

Phrases for saying thank you:

The phrases here are ordered according to the level of formality or the importance of what they did. Use a phrase, and add a sentence or two to personalize the message – it really doesn’t need to be long.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude for…VTchecklists

I am very grateful for …

I really appreciate ……

Thank you so much!

Thanks for your … (time, contribution, effort, etc.)

Thanks.

An example thank you email:

Hi Karen,

Thanks so much for helping me out this week with the mini-staffing crisis. You really helped the team and I particularly appreciated your flexibility and eagerness to try out something new.

Thanks again,

Kate

Showing considerateness is an important part of working in virtual teams. Let us know if you have any other suggestions in the comments area below.

 

Job Interviews in English: Using the correct language

Do you have to conduct job interviews in English? Job interview language, and which grammar tense to use, can be tricky at times. Never sure if it’s ‘have worked’ or ‘worked’? Get confused by ‘have done’ and ‘did’?

Job interviews usually involve discussing the experience the applicant can bring to the position. Everyone’s experience is based on events in their lives and some of these are finished and some are not. Below is some information that should help you prepare to conduct job interviews in English.

Job interviews in English: example of an interview conversation

Below is an example of a typical interview conversation.  There are several examples of both tenses being used in parallel in a job interview. Which events are finished and which are ongoing in Ms Brandy’s life?

  1. Good morning Ms Brandy, please have a seat.
  2. Good morning Mr Jones, it’s a pleasure to meet you.
  1. Could you tell me who you work for at the moment?
  2. I work for Frank and Banowitz importers.
  1. How long have you worked for them?
  2. I’ve worked for Frank and Banowitz for the past three years.
  1. And how long have you worked in the marketing department?
  2. I’ve been in the marketing department for the past six months.
  1. You know this job requires a lot of travel. Have you done much traveling for business?
  2. Yes, the job I had before Frank and Banowitz at an insurance company required me to travel monthly.
  1. And why did you leave that position?
  2. I got a more interesting position at Frank and Banowitz.
  1. Have you had any experience in advertising?
  2. Yes, I’ve spent the last few years working part-time as an advertising consultant for schools offering summer language courses.
  1. That’s interesting. How successful have you been?
  2. The school I’ve worked for has had quite a few more registrations as a result of my collaboration.
  1. Very interesting…

Note how the interviewer (1.) asks questions using ‘have you + past participle’, unless he wants to know more about one of Ms Brandy’s experiences.  At that point, he then switches to the past. (‘Why did you leave that position’?). The ‘have you’ questions focus on Ms Brandy’s life experiences which are relevant to the job interview of today. The past question deals with finding out more information on why Ms Brandy left the first job she had. It is an important question, but is about a finished experience for her.

It is a good idea to practice the different tenses used in an interview by analyzing your own CV and writing down questions you would expect to be asked in an interview for your team leader’s position.  Feel free post your answers, or any other questions you might have, in the comments area below and we will get back to you with some feedback.  Make sure to check out how Target Training has helped professionals improve their writing skills at work by clicking here.

Writing clear emails: Asking somebody to do something

How many of your emails are asking somebody to do something?  And do you spend too much time thinking about exactly what to write and how to structure your email?  Then read on and learn how to save time while writing clear emails.
So many of the emails we write are for a handful of simple reasons, and by relying on a model you can avoid wasting time thinking how to start, what to write and how to structure your email.  A classic example of a common email is writing to somebody because we want them to do something for us.  In this situation the RAP model is great.

RAP stands for:

  • Reference – Introduce why you are writing.
  • Action – Tell them what you need them to do.
  • Polite close – Thank them and say goodbye.

Here’s a simple example

Dear Mr. Breuer,

I am writing to you about our meeting on Thursday. (Reference). Please could you send me the latest version of the agenda before the end of the day? (Action)

Thanks in advance for your help. (Polite Close)

Best regards

Scott

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook downloadAnd if you want to ask somebody to do something, explaining the reason why always makes the email even more effective.

Dear Mr. Breuer

I am writing to you about our meeting on Thursday. (Reference). Please could you send me the latest version of the agenda before the end of the day? This will help us to make sure everything is prepared in advance.(Action)

Thanks in advance for your help. (Polite Close)

Best regards

Scott

10 helpful phrases to get you started with your first RAP email

Reference

  • With reference to…
  • Referring to…
  • I am writing to…
  • I am writing in response to…
  • In response to your inquiry…

Polite Close

  • Thank you for your assistance.
  • Thank you in advance for your help.
  • I look forward to hearing from you soon.
  • Please let me know if you have any questions.
  • Please feel free to contact me if you need any further information.

 

Why not practice below, and we’ll give you some feedback?

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:

 

Out of Office Message: Quick Tips 1

During a recent holiday period, I saw a lot of English out of office replies from non-native speakers. What intrigues me is the fact that no two are the same. There is nothing wrong with this. After all, why should we all be identical? But really, how many ways of saying the same thing are there? In English, it would seem, there are fewer ways of putting our out of office reply together than there might be in other languages. So, here are some guidelines and some phrases to help you with your out of office message:

What might you want the reply to do?

  • Thank / apologize
  • Provide dates when you are not here / when you will be back
  • State who is standing in (covering) for you (plus contact information)
  • Say whether the mail will (or will not) be automatically forwarded to this stand-in (cover)
  • Say whether you will have access to your e-mails?
  • Say you’ll get in touch when you return

I feel that the message should do most of the functions here, but you may want to add to the list or dispute whether some of the information is really necessary.

For each of the functions above, here are a selection of phrases for you to choose from. Then ideally, all you should have to do is fill in the gaps with the relevant information.



Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download
Thank / apologize

  • Thank you for your e-mail.
  • Unfortunately, I am out of the office …….
  • I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Dates when you are not here / when you will be back

  • I am currently out of the office. I will be back on May 7th, 2013.
  • I am currently on vacation / holiday and will be returning on May 7th, 2013.

Who is standing in for you (plus contact information)

  • In urgent cases, please contact Mr. ……….. on +49 711 811 4321
  • In urgent cases, please contact me on my mobile +49 173456789
  • Mr. Smith (Bob.Smith@XYZ.de) will be standing in for me.  He can be contacted on +49 711 811 4321
  • For matters relating to ………., please contact Mr. Smith….. For all other matters, please contact Mr. Jones on…..
  • If you have additional questions in the meantime please don’t hesitate to contact Mr. Jones on ….

Will (or won’t) the mail be automatically forwarded to this stand-in

  • Your e-mails will not be automatically forwarded.
  • Your e-mails will be automatically forwarded to Mr. Smith.

Will you have access to your e-mails?

  • I will have occasional access to my e-mails during this time.
  • I will not have access to my e-mails during this time.

Say you’ll get in touch when you return

  • I will contact you when I return.
  • I will reply to your e-mails when I return to the office.

The phrases above can be used in any order you feel is appropriate.

An example:

  • Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, I am not currently in the office. I will though be back on May 7th and will be able to respond when I return. In urgent cases, please contact Ms Cheng.

 

Why not review your out of office reply? If you post it in the comments box below, we’ll get back to you with feedback.