Tag Archive for: emailing

Adapting emails to different communication styles

Business email today takes up a lot of employee time – up 2.6 hours a day according to McKinsey. We are also opening more email than ever before on mobile devices, and out of hours. Therefore, it has become even more important that email messages are clear, precise and understandable.

We recently worked with a global team responsible for managing training inside their organisation. The team were facing challenges in dealing with high amounts of queries about information they had already sent via email. They wanted to know how they could communicate the same information to a wide range of readers in order to reduce follow up emails. We decided to help them explore different communication styles and how to adapt their email communications to them. In this post you will learn what the different styles are, why this matters, and get some tips and strategies for adapting your written communication.

What are the different communication styles?

Did you ever notice that some people are more direct or indirect in how they communicate? This often comes from cultural differences. Two researchers, Edward Hall and Erin Meyer, have categorised these differences as high-context/indirect and low-context/direct. As you read the information below, try to think of colleagues you know who tend to communicate in these different ways.

High-Context/Indirect Low-Context/Direct
Expect to interpret a message

Indirect, nuanced

Higher on background details

Use coded language

Prefer oral communications

State the context before the main point

‘Read between the lines’

Don’t expect the reader to interpret

Direct, to the point. precise

Lower on background details

Less able to read between the lines

Prefer written communications

Get to the main point quickly

‘Say what you mean, mean what you say’

Why does this matter?

Look at this phrase, taken from the final line of a real email.

“Therefore, my role in this is questionable.”

What does the writer mean exactly? Is she saying she doesn’t have a role? Is she saying she doesn’t know what her role is? Is she asking the reader to clarify what her role is? In fact, we don’t know the precise meaning because this is a relatively high-context/indirect message. In fact, this kind of coded language can present problems for all types of readers. Low-context/direct readers will be uncertain what the precise meaning is and how to respond. High-context/indirect readers will read a meaning from the phrase, but it could be the wrong one if they do not share the same assumptions/context as the writer.

As we described at the beginning of this post, the high volume of email communication today means that email needs to be clear, precise and understandable at the first reading. Otherwise we will increase the size of our inboxes with clarifications of old messages.

Understanding these different communication styles can really help to cut down on follow up emails by designing your emails for the type of communicators you are writing to. In the next section you will read tips and strategies for how to adjust to the two communication styles we described above.

How you can adapt your emails to the different styles

Here you will find some practical advise for how to adapt your emails to the different styles. These tips will be especially useful if you are working with people who have a different style to you.

How to work with High-Context/Indirect communicators How to work with Low-Context/Direct communicators
Don’t take words at face value

Ask ‘what do they want to say?’

Ask checking questions to make

sure you understand

Expect questions/clarifications

Find ways to communicate

orally where you can

Keep it short and unambiguous

Don’t search for hidden meanings

Avoid coded language

Don’t take blunt answers


Make sure you include the ‘why’

in communications

Is one style better than the other?

We all have preferences for one style or the other and that’s what makes us who we are. What we are really saying is that a ‘one style fits all’ approach to emailing doesn’t necessarily work. A smarter approach to getting your emails read and cutting down on clarifications is to adapt your style to your reader.

To conclude

The global team we worked with on this topic found it eye-opening to explore their own styles and their assumptions about how to write a good email. They are now experimenting with adapting their styles, with some good results. Of course, this is a work in progress!

For more information

More tips and advice for writing effective emails in these posts:

Rescheduling meetings in English

As an InCorporate Trainer, I provide business English training and support to an engineering multinational within their offices. Most of my participants attend meetings with clients, partners and colleagues, and sometimes it’s necessary to reschedule a meeting via email. My participants are concerned about the tone of the email, letting others down, and losing trust and credibility. Based on my work with them, here are a few examples, tips and phrases that you can use when you need to reschedule a meeting in English. 

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Reschedule with as much notice as possible

This gives others the chance to use their time as efficiently as possible and reduces the impact and inconvenience. Waiting until the last minute to reschedule the meeting, means no one else will have a chance to schedule another activity during this time. If it happens frequently it damages your emotional bank account. As you can see from the example mail below, the reason for the change has been given. Transparency is valued and builds trust. If you have a reasonable reason for rescheduling the meeting and you share this, others will find the change easier to accept. If you are informing them a few days in advance a polite email to is usually fine. This email has 3 steps:

  1. Shares the reason why
  2. Says sorry for the inconvenience
  3. Suggests another time

Dear Ralf,

I’m very sorry, but I need to reschedule our status update meeting set for Thursday. I need to stand in for my colleague who is unexpectedly unable to lead a client workshop. I am aware that our meeting needs to happen before we can move on the next quality gate, so I’d like to suggest that we meet on Monday 6th instead. I believe everyone is able to attend, right? If not, please let me know and I’ll look for another alternative. Sorry again for the inconvenience and I hope that we are able to find a suitable solution.

Thanks in advance,

Reschedule at the last minute

How you handle rescheduling your meeting at the last minute depends very much on whom you’re meeting, why you are meeting and how big a problem it is to reschedule the day before. Sickness and family disasters aside, rescheduling on the day of the meeting really does deserve a personal phone call. Using the phone is personal, shows you care and also speeds up the process of finding a new date that fits both sides. On those very rare occasions when you need to cancel a meeting an hour before then get ready to eat humble pie. Again, do it by phone, apologize, explain why and show you want to find a new date –  even if you can’t do this right then and there. Then consider showing you appreciate their patience by following up later with a thank you email. For example …

Dear Ralf,

I just wanted to write and say thank you once again for your flexibility. I really do appreciate it. Talking though our options regarding the NCC presentation is very important to me and I’d like to reschedule quickly and find a time that suits you.  I can move things around and find time to meet on Monday (10:00 – 14:15) or Thursday (9:00 – 13.00). If neither of these work for you then please make some suggestions and I’ll do my very best to find a solution. Once again, I’m very sorry for the inconvenience and thanks for your understanding.


Explaining the reason

  • There is an urgent work-related problem which I need to solve.
  • I’ve been called away to deal with a problem.
  • I’ve been double booked and need to prioritize the client meeting.  I hope you understand.
  • I need to cover for a colleague who is out of the office for several days.
  • I have a family situation I need to prioritize.

Showing appreciation

  • I appreciate your flexibility.
  • Thank you in advance for your understanding.
  • I really appreciate your support/help.

Phrases for apologizing

  • I’m sorry, I’m afraid I will need to move the date of our meeting.
  • Can we please find a new date? I’m really sorry, things have changed on my side.
  • I’m truly sorry but I can’t make the day/time we planned.
  • I apologize for changing things last minute.
  • I’m sorry about this, I was looking forward to our meeting.

Suggesting an alternative meeting time

  • Does X, Y, or Z work for you?
  • I can offer X or Y. If neither of those fit, please make a couple of suggestions and I will do my best to make it work.
  • I’m available on X, or Y, at A or B.
  • I can offer… / I’m free on…
  • Anytime on Friday works me.
Fore more information

If you would like to learn more about how our InCorporate Trainers provide on-the-job support and coaching for clients then take a look at

Practical rules and resources for writing quality emails

This might be difficult to imagine if you are under 35, but when I started my career in finance there was no email. All written communication was by letter, and if something was really urgent you might send a telex or a fax. Written communication was an investment – an investment in time and in labour.  The process of sending a letter was a slow one; dictating it, the secretary/typist typing it, checking it, finally signing it, putting it in an envelope and posting it. There was no word processing software – if you wanted to make changes to the content, you returned it to the typist who would retype it.  Again, this may be difficult to imagine, but in some ways this wasn’t such a bad thing and there was a plus side to the writer and the reader. Exactly because it was so time consuming and labour intensive, you thought carefully about what you wanted to say and how you were going to say it. You invested in the quality of your written communication.

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Today email communication, combined with documents being available online, has replaced the letter. Email beats snail mail letters. Approximately 280 billion emails are sent every day, and the average number of business emails sent each day is around 125 billion. In a recent workshop on Managing conflict in virtual teams one purchaser shared he had received 68 from a single person in one day!

Writing emails requires little effort and little thought– and obviously this is not always a good thing. Take a look at your inbox and ask yourself how many of these emails are unclear, unnecessary or simply unwanted. So why do we send so many? The simple answer is because we can. The process is simple, quick and easy. The challenge organizations face today is keeping the good stuff (quick, easy, simple) while eliminating the down sides.  This is made harder by our convictions that our writing is clear and understandable despite research showing we often overestimate this.

So if you want your mails to be clear, necessary and wanted then start with these 3 practical rules.

Write clear and understandable subject lines

It’s very likely that your reader is busy and that they have a lot of pulls on their time. Regardless of whether they are using a laptop, tablet or phone they will see your name/email address and your subject line. A clear and understandable subject line helps them prioritize your email, shows respect for their time, and builds trust. A clear subject line can also help catch your recipient’s attention and encourage them to deal with your mail quickly. Consider using BLUF (bottom line up front) in your subject line and also at the very start of your email.  Another simple tip that many virtual teams adopt is to  agree with your team members on a selection of limited key words (e.g Info, Action, Decision).  For more simple and practical advice plus a training activity on effective subject lines check out this post.
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Write it how you’d say it

Many of us (and I am guilty of this) use a different style when writing.  Some people opt for different words, more complicated expressions and generally take longer to say something in writing than we would face to face.

For example…. “It has been brought to my attention that the complexities of the user interface are making life difficult for some of our users. I’d like to suggest we discuss this together”. Flipping it around some people also write emails in note form, or an overly casual style e.g. “Heard user interface difficult 4 user. Talk?” Writing as you speak would give you  “Some of our users are finding the user interface difficult to use. Can we talk about this together?”

Writing in a clear and direct style definitely helps clarity.  Pay attention to tone, and as a reader try to give the writer the benefit of the doubt when you feel the tone is odd.

Take a moment before you hit send

In the days when we sent letters we took a lot of time to think about what we were writing. We planned and drafted and there were many opportunities to change what we wanted to say or how we wanted to say it. You could read your letter through before signing it and at that moment decide if you really wanted to send it.
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Today these inbuilt pauses don’t exist. You quickly read a mail, write the response and hit send. It is often done on the move and squeezed between other tasks, conversations etc.  That is generally OK for short, routine communications but for those that are longer, complicated or sensitive, type once but look twice is a good rule to follow.  Write your email, don’t add the address and put it in your drafts folder (or email it to yourself). Read it later and if it’s clear, understandable and unemotional – send it. For more help on writing emotionally neutral emails, see here.


How to avoid your emails going viral

“Worst email ever?”  was the headline that got my attention when I read my newspaper on a Saturday morning. The story was about an Australian manager who had sent an email which he later described himself as a “Gordon Ramsay meets Donald Trump-style email rant”.  His email went viral on Twitter (#bossoftheyear) and the story was an online sensation for a couple of days. 

Although, or maybe because, we send and receive countless emails every day it is sometimes easy to forget some of the golden rules of email etiquette. To give the manager his dues he later apologized to his staff (“It seems I am becoming an online sensation for how NOT to communicate – and in hindsight I agree!!”), but his story is a timely reminder to review some important dos and don’ts for emailing. Starting with the most important one, here are six tips for you to consider…

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Tip 1 – Don’t send emails when you are angry / frustrated/ tired etc

This is, and always will be, the first rule of email communication. In “Writing emails that people read”, our most downloaded ebook with 18,000 downloads to date, we suggest you write the whole email if it will make you feel better and help you to get some-thing out of your system – BUT only add the recipients and send it after you have had space and time to reflect and think about what you are sending and its potential impact. Rule #2 builds on this by emphasizing that email is great for giving information, sharing updates or making simple requests. However, use the phone if something could be a sensitive or emotional topic. When it comes to management communication, in our Practical Toolbox for Managers training we also suggest that emotional communication is done face-to-face, via Webex or over the phone. Email just doesn’t help … although you might feel better for a few minutes.

As the Australian manger himself later said, he sent it “in a moment of seeing red and it most definitely should not have happened”.

Tip 2 – Watch your tone, mind your language

Emails need to be respectful and clear. Body language, facial expressions and tone of voice cannot be communicated by email. How an email sounds and the message it sends are determined only by the words that we use. Read this blog post if you want to learn more about tone in emails. Make sure that your message is respectful and clear. In his viral email the manager knew he’d misjudged this and later wrote “Obviously some of you know me pretty well and know I shoot from the hip, but obviously others don’t”.

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Tip 3 – Get the person’s name right

This is a very personal tip for me. I get a lot of emails from French contacts and probably 20% start with Hi Taylor (my first name is Ian). When you type the recipient’s name in the “To” line or select them from your address book – make sure it’s the right person. (In 2000, a British schoolgirl was on the receiving end of inappropriate business emails after a US naval commander accidentally added her to his confidential mailing list.) Be sure that the name you use at the beginning of the mail is the name of the person in the address line and that you have spelt it correctly.

Tip 4 – KISS: Keep it short and simple

Everybody is busy and everybody gets a lot of emails.  The average number of emails received per day in 2018 is 97!  If each email takes just 2 minutes to read and deal with this is 3 hours of your day done already!

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Getting people to read (and respond to) your emails

As everyone already knows, email is ubiquitous – in both our private and professional lives. Emails are easy to write and send – and we are inundated with them daily. As an in-house business English trainer at a major production site, I see daily the frustrations this can cause – not just for those receiving 90+ mails day (or 1 every 5 minutes!), but also for those sending the mails – knowing they may need to wait a while before hearing a reply. Recently, a manager I train in the automotive industry asked “How can I increase the chances that people respond to my emails?”

Studies have shown that people are more likely to respond to emails written in a simple, straightforward manner than to emails with more complex language. In fact, emails written at a 3rd grade level have been shown to have the highest response rate! So put away those thesauruses and get rid of those dependent clauses! Simple, concise writing is a main driver in increasing your response rate. As with any writing, placing your reader’s needs first is a must. There is no one magic formula for guaranteeing that people will respond to your email, but it’s important that you write emails that people will read. The tips outlined below will definitely tip the odds in your favour!

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook downloadTIP 1 – Keep your subject line obvious and short

Short, simple and obvious subject lines of only 3-4 words get the most responses. The most important thing, though, is to make sure the meaning is clear. Clarity beats ambiguity every time! Military personnel often use keywords e.g. ACTION, REQUEST, DECISION, INFO. This helps the reader immediately understand the purpose of the email. Then, just a couple more words to clarify the subject.


  • Prod Spec (vague)
  • End User Prod spec file plz send (relevant words but could be easier to understand the meaning!)
  • Request- Send Product Specifications file (optimal!)

TIP 2 – Use simple language

As part of my job, I work with engineers providing on-the-job English training. Last week Klaus (not his real name) asked me to help him understand a mail from a supplier. Klaus was struggling to understand …“Hitherto now, I have been unable to place the whereabouts of your aforementioned order, to which I would like to offer the following proposal, able to be fulfilled forthwith”.

Working together with Klaus we simplified it into “We’re sorry but we can’t find the order you mentioned in your email. However, we can suggest the following immediate solution …”.  As Klaus rightly said – why didn’t they just say that?

TIP 3 – Write human

In addition to simplicity, write with emotion! It doesn’t matter if that emotion is positive or negative, writing with any emotion is better than writing a neutral email with absolutely no emotion. The bottom line is: use a believable amount of emotion without getting too hostile or overly-sentimental.

Example of increasing positive emotion:

  • I want to meet next week to discuss my proposal. (neutral)
  • I would love to meet next week to discuss my proposal. (better but maybe a little over the top)
  • I’m definitely interested in meeting next week to discuss my proposal with you! (best!)

Example of increasing negative emotion:

  • Our experience with your product did not meet our expectations. (neutral)
  • From my experience today, I find the quality of your product to be sub-par. (better but “sub par” isn’t simple English)
  • Your product sucks. (too much human)
  • Based on my experiences today, the quality of your product is far below our expectations (best!)

TIP 4 – Write short sentences and paragraphs

When writing your email, make sure it’s an appropriate length. Imagine if you received a novel in your inbox. Would you even bother to read the first sentence? Probably not! The optimal length of an email is roughly 50-125 words, and the response rate slowly drops off as the emails get longer.  When you really need to write longer emails use sub-headings to break the text up.

TIP 5 – Keep the dialogue moving with clear questions

One final way to increase the chances your email will receive a response is to include a task, so ask a few questions! Otherwise, the recipient will most likely assume the purpose of your email is nothing more than to inform. Statistically, 1-3 questions are optimal. Any longer and it becomes a questionnaire, which quickly sends the email to the “do later” box. As I wrote earlier, you won’t get a response to every email you write, but you can change how you write your emails so that you are more likely to get a response when it counts most! And remember to use the phone or video calls if something is important, urgent or contains an emotional message.

Keep on developing your email writing skills with these blog posts

And if you’re looking for training (delivered virtually or face to face) then check out …

Why, statistically speaking, your emails probably aren’t as clear as you think they are

At the time of writing this blog it’s estimated that 269 billion mails are sent a day. Once we’ve cut out all the spam (say 50%) that is still an awful lot of communication. But how effective is email as a communication tool really? Put simply – it depends. If a mail is well-written, for example using the SUGAR approach, email can be an effective way of communicating information and sharing ideas. However, where email begins to struggle is when it includes or conveys an emotion. And we’re not talking about BIG EMOTIONS – most of us are aware sending emails when tired, upset, angry etc isn’t a good idea. Email communication also struggles when we try to convey much subtler emotions – irony, sarcasm, satisfaction etc.

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Why do we struggle to communicate emotions through email?

In our conversations, we convey emotion through both words AND paralinguistic cues (body language, facial movements, expressions, gestures, emphasis, tone, intonation etc). In fact it gets more complicated as sometime the absence of an expected paralinguistic cue is what conveys the emotion, or a shared context, for example when expressing irony or sarcasm.

When it comes to email we try to convey emotion through word choice, sentence structures and – whether you like them or not –  visuals such as emojis (yes, they are now common even in business).  However, scientific research shows that we tend to consistently overestimate our email writing skills.

Why writing an email is particularly different

Communicating in writing isn’t new – but the ubiquity and pervasiveness of email is!  Writing and physically posting letters meant that, to a greater extent, we planned and considered what we wrote and how we wrote it.  Nobody posted a 3 line letter.  Today, the speed and convenience of email means that we too often just type and send. This brings with it a whole new set of behaviours, and because it is so much a part of modern communication we don’t take time to evaluate how we use it or look to sharpen our writing skills

Research on how we don’t communicate as well as we think we do via email

There’s plenty of research from social psychologists into how we communicate by email. One interesting piece of research shows that the limitations of email are often underappreciated when it comes to communicating an intended emotion  – and that when we are writing an email we consistently overestimate how well our reader will understand what we are saying.

Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Kruger, Epley, Parker and Zhi-Wen Ng, ran a series of studies comparing how well an email writer evaluated their email with the reader.

  • In one study 97% of the authors expected the serious and half-sarcastic sentences in their email to be correctly decoded. The readers successfully decoded just 84%.
  • Another study compared overconfidence when communicating with their voice versus overconfidence when communicating via email. When communicating with their voice 77.9% believed their tone would be understood – whereas it was in fact 73.1% . A noticeable gap BUT significantly better than the email results where 78% believe their tone would be understood whereas it was actually just 56%!
  • But it’s different when you are writing to a colleague who knows you well, right? Perhaps not – a third study looked at overconfidence when communicating with strangers versus friends. Surprisingly, the results suggested that familiarity does not translate into communication accuracy.
  • And finally, yet another study demonstrated how email writer are consistently overconfident in their ability to be funny in an email!

Why are we so convinced our emails are easy to decode?

It’s easy to lay the blame with the reader. Maybe they read the mail too quickly, or skimmed it on their phone as they were walking to their next meeting.  Maybe their language skills aren’t strong enough and they need to improve their business English. And dare we say it, perhaps they are just too dim to understand our well-crafted emails!

In fact, it often comes down to our being egocentric. Studies such as Elizabeth Newton’s “tapping study” , where participants were asked to tap the rhythm of a well-known song they were listening to  – and then estimate whether another listener would guess the song by their (clearly skilful) tapping (50% vs 3%), show how easily we convince ourselves that our reality is obvious. They also shine a light on how difficult we find it to imagine the perspective of somebody else (e.g. “I clearly meant it to be ironic – how could they not get that!?!”).

So what can you do to help your readers interpret your emails correctly?

Here are three things you can keep in mind for the future:

  1. Before you hit send reread your email with your “ambiguity radar” on.  If something could be read in different ways then rewrite it, clarify it – or just delete it.
  2. If the mail does have an emotional component, leave it alone for thirty minutes and then reread with a fresh set of eyes.
  3. If something is a joke, use emojis.

And finally, if you’re not sure, use the phone.



Losing my mind on a deserted island: My challenges of working virtually

No, I don’t think I am really losing my mind, but some days I feel like it.  As Head of Sales for Target Training I work virtually each day. This means that I am working at clients’ offices, on a train or at home in my office.  I am constantly emailing, messaging, phoning and videoconferencing with my colleagues.  There are weeks where I don’t see any of my colleagues in person. I love the flexibility and autonomy of working virtually. There are a lot of advantages and it fits my lifestyle.  This way of working is becoming the norm for many professionals and with it come challenges. The key is to make sure you address the challenges before they start to affect your, and your team’s productivity.

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I was in a client meeting a few weeks back discussing a virtual teams training project with a department leader.  We were looking into his team’s struggles in an effort to customize our training approach.  During our talk, he used the phrase ‘…with everyone working on their own little deserted island..’  when he was discussing his virtual team spread over 5 countries.  It struck me as a great analogy and got me thinking about my team.

So, I took a few minutes and wrote down the biggest challenges I personally face when working virtually.  I recommend doing the same as the exercise helped me raise awareness of what is happening and what I can do to improve things.  I had quite a long list after 10 minutes, but here are the three main struggles I thought I’d share:

1. Trust

Trusting the people that you work with is essential.  Without trust; conflict, misunderstanding and communication breakdowns occur.  In my opinion, trust is something that comes from two people investing in their working relationship.  This can be purely professional or a mix of personal and professional.  Trust can mean different things to different people, but I think most people would agree that it is easier to build when you see someone face to face on a regular basis.  You don’t always have that luxury when working in dispersed teams.  Building trust takes more effort and work.  What can you do to build trust in your virtual teams?

2. Email etiquette

Love them or hate them, emails aren’t going anywhere no matter what you might have heard or read. Emails can be a great way to quickly distribute information all over the world to a number of people.  They can also easily offend, frustrate and demotivate colleagues due to the smallest word, phrase or omission of something.  When you don’t have the ability to see someone face to face when communicating, you need to make sure your message and tone reflect what you are trying to say.  Even then, the reader may interpret things differently based what is happening on their ‘deserted island’ that particular day.  What should you do?  Use the phone when in doubt and establish some email rules for your virtual teams. 

3. Unnecessary virtual meetings/calls

There are different opinions out there on whether to have weekly catch up meetings scheduled or not, regardless of urgent discussion points. In my opinion, the fewer the calls the better.  My schedule changes quickly and needs to flexible to accommodate client demands.  So, when I see a weekly call on my calendar I look at it as a barrier to productivity, unless it is about something to move a project forward.  What can your team do instead of the weekly teleconferences?


As a kid, I used to fantasize about being on my own deserted island and doing what I wanted, the way I wanted, every day. That is my current reality, minus the beach. Working virtually is reality for most us and taking a few steps to improve our communication and relationships goes a long way. Give a few of the tips included in the links above a try and see how it goes!



Read more on virtual teams on our blog. Or download our popular eBook below.

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Apologizing via email – phrases

Being wrong doesn’t feel like anything, and there’s nothing wrong with being wrong. It happens to everybody. Realizing you’ve made a mistake can be difficult and perhaps embarrassing – I’ve been there – but letting others know that you got it wrong is important to healthy relationships. You can do this in person, on the phone, by email, WhatsApp, a personal note or a post-it. Every medium has a different impact, every person has different preferences on how they want to receive/give an apology. In the end, just remember, apologizing is going to make you seem human, regardless of the outcome.

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When is an apology via email appropriate?

It’s not always possible or practical to meet someone in person. Apologizing on the phone can be difficult if you don’t know the other person, or if you’re just not very good at apologizing over the phone.

But, when: …

  • Time is of the essence
  • You want everyone to get the same apology at the same time
  • You have a lot to say
  • Your apology is formal
  • You want or expect very little to nothing in return

…then an email might be appropriate.

The perfect apology

I found this via Google. If your apology contains the following…:

  • give a detailed account of the situation
  • acknowledge the hurt or damage done
  • take responsibility
  • recognize your/the company’s role in the situation
  • include a statement of regret
  • ask for forgiveness
  • promise that it won’t happen again
  • provide a form of restitution (if possible)

… it’s pretty much a perfect business apology. Here are a few phrases to get you started, related to some of the above categories:


  1. Please accept my apologies.
  2. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to..
  3. (I’m) sorry. I didn’t realize the impact of…
  4. Please accept our deepest apologies for…
  5. Please accept my sincere apologies for…
  6. Please accept this as my formal apology for…
  7. Please allow me to apologize for…
  8. I would like to express my deep regrets for…
  9. I would like to apologize on behalf of our company.
  10. Please accept my apology for…
  11. I apologize for my failure to…
  12. I’m particularly sorry for…


  1. We appreciate that this caused you inconvenience…
  2. I understand that our actions meant…
  3. I can imagine that you felt like…
  4. We see that our actions impacted you unnecessarily…
  5. As a result of our decision, our relationship was affected…


  1. In our efforts to optimize our distribution process, we overlooked…
  2. The defect/problem was caused by…
  3. The error was due to…
  4. Our internal communication failed. As a result…


  1. We’re convinced that the changes we’ve implemented will prevent this from happening again.
  2. In the future, our focus will be on…, so that this situation won’t repeat itself.
  3. We’ll be increasing our efforts when it comes to…, so that in the future…
  4. We’ve increased our efforts to ensure that…
  5. I can promise you that the highest quality standards will be met going forward.

The SPASS model

When it comes to writing the email, structuring your email can be difficult. The SPASS model is perfect for email apologies. It’s simple and easy to remember. SPASS = Situation – Problem – Action – Say Sorry. That’s it. Finally, I apologize for keeping you from what you were doing, with another very long post.

Be great!


Writing status updates: Tips and phrases

The key to any successful relationship – business or personal – is trust. Clear, transparent and timely communication helps to build this trust. I spend much of my time providing on-the-job training and support to a logistics client. That support is often in the form of helping them write emails to customers and suppliers updating them on the statuses of certain orders and deliveries. My client often needs to let their customers or suppliers ‘know where they stand,’ in the form of email status updates on orders or shipments: ‘We have a new delivery date.’ ‘We have just determined the requested item is out of stock.’ ‘There is a problem with customs clearance.’ ‘The item has been shipped!’ Whatever the message, my client is dedicated to communicating professionally and to keeping their partner’s trust. Just as with any email, you’ll have to decide whether the tone is formal, informal or neutral. But there are a few things to remember when updating people or letting them know the status of an order, a payment, a shipment, etc.

1. Always let people know why you’re writing

This is true for almost all emails. It’s less crucial if you have an ongoing email ‘conversation’ with someone.

  • I’m writing to let you know about order number….
  • I have some information for you about…
  • I wanted to update you about…
  • We’re writing regarding….
  • We’re contacting you regarding your order number …

The “I” is a personal statement. Using “we” implies you are writing as a company, but are open and friendly. You can use the phrases above in less formal situations, or if you have an existing relationship with the recipient. But if the situation is more formal, then there are better, stronger phrases to use:

  • The purpose of this email is to update you on the status of….
  • This is to inform you about the delivery of…
  • Following is the status of order…
  • Please find attached a summary of …
  • This is to inform you that the delivery of ______ has been scheduled

Adopting the 3rd person instead of the 1st person almost always makes your emails more formal.  Avoid terms like “We hereby inform you” – this feels very legalistic.

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download

2. Give them the news, good or bad, as simply as possible

Good news is easy:

  • I am pleased to inform you that….
  • I have some good news about your delivery of…
  • I have spoken with the forwarder and am happy to say that…

Bad news is tricky. No one wants bad news, so don’t beat about the bush.

  • Unfortunately, the shipment has been delayed until…
  • Unfortunately, the material you ordered is no longer available.
  • I/We regret to inform you that…”
  • I am afraid we are not able to…
  • Please accept my/our apologies for this misunderstanding/delay/inconvenience.
  • We’re deeply sorry that …
  • Due to the airline employees’ strike, the order is grounded in Frankfurt.
  • It has come to our attention that the deadline that was agreed to cannot be met.

Giving bad news can be very complicated. It’s important that you acknowledge that the bad news is a problem or an inconvenience. Be brief. Be respectful. Be understanding. Explain but be careful that is doesn’t seem like you’re making excuses. Offer some alternative or solution, if possible:

  • We apologise for this inconvenience. We hope the strike will be resolved by Friday and that the shipments will return to normal by the following Monday.
  • Although we cannot provide the items xyz123 you requested, we can offer the item abc456, which are comparable.

3. Develop trust by making yourself available to them

You’ve probably seen them hundreds of times but they work!

  • If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me
  • If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
  • Please contact me with any questions you might have about this.
  • Please let me know how I can assist you with any other questions.

Consistency is key

If you adopt a formal tone at the beginning, try to maintain that throughout the email. Or, if you decide it should be friendly and less formal at the beginning, stay less formal and friendly through the entire email.


12 ways to regain control of your inbox and avoid an email tsunami

It’s your first morning back in the office. You’ve had an amazing two weeks and this time last week you were laying on the beach. This morning however, you were brutally awakened by the alarm clock – and it’s back to reality. After grabbing a coffee, you’ve opened your inbox and there are 500+ emails awaiting you. Where do you start?

Here are some ideas to help you tackle a post-holiday email tsunami:

  • Talk to people. This may sound a bit obvious, but ask your colleagues and boss what’s going on so you get a clear picture. Then look for emails related to what you’ve learnt.
  • Scan through the subject lines to give yourself a feeling of what’s going on before you open anything.
  • Move all emails into a new folder. That way you’ll only have the freshest of emails in your inbox.
  • Work your way backwards. Start with the most recent emails. A lot of them will be part of a chain anyway, and the most recent parts will be the most relevant.
  • Sift through the bulk. First delete anything that is obviously irrelevant.
  • Sort the emails into categories. Who are the most important people you’re working with? Maybe start with emails from a certain client? Or your boss?
  • Are they low, medium or high priority? Would the sender agree with your rating?
  • Thank people. Thank anyone who has covered for you, thank your clients for waiting etc.
  • Set up a new automatic message. Explain that you’ve just got back, that you’re working your way through your emails, and that you’ll be in touch as soon as you can. Invite people to give you a call if it’s really urgent.
  • If you’re only copied in, then move these emails into another folder.
  • Decide on what you’re going to do about the emails. Which ones are you going to answer now? Which ones later? Try marking them with colored flags to show what you’re going to do. If something is literally going to take a minute to answer, do it now.
  • Make a to-do list based on the emails you didn’t delete.

Lastly, congratulate yourself quickly on getting through the emails, then get down to your to-do list!



Establishing effective email etiquette in your virtual teams

Email is still one of the most common communication channels within virtual teams – and it can cause friction.  Proactively tackling potential problems is key to successfully launching a virtual team – so during our face-to-face and online seminars with virtual team leaders we discuss expectations.  Naturally communication comes into this and time spent constructing a communication plan is always time well spent. As Jochen, a German project manager shared “It sounds so obvious we didn’t think about doing it – and now that we have I can already tell that we solved some real obstacles”.

Building a communication plan when you kick off your virtual team

A communication plan outlines which communication tools you’ll use and how you’ll use them.  For example “we’ll use Webex for our brainstorming and problem solving, we’ll use Hipster for chatting and sharing links, and we’ll use email for …”

Building the plan involves discussing approaches and expectations – and by talking through these expectations you can uncover and deal with different attitudes.  An example we often run into when working with multicultural virtual teams is whereas one team member may expect people to write back a polite “thank you for the mail” another may find this a waste of time – and even annoying!  And because email is still so pervasive we’ve seen that the majority of frustrations come from how people use (or don’t use) email. To get you started with your discussions, we’re sharing below a list of email commitments one of our clients agreed to (with their permission of course).

Email commitments from a software development team working virtually across 3 countries

  1. We’ll check our email at least every 3 hours.
  2. We don’t check emails when we are in meetings.
  3. We’ll use the phone and leave a message if something is truly time critical.
  4. We’ll write email subject lines that immediately explain what the email is about.
  5. We’ll use keywords like Action by XX or FYI in the titles
  6. We assume that if somebody is copied (cc) into an email they don’t need to respond.
  7. We will avoid using the “reply to all” unless everyone absolutely needs the information
  8. We’ll pick up the phone after 3 emails on one topic.
  9. We accept that emails sent from phones occasionally have typos.
  10. We expect that larger emails are well written.
  11. We don’t use CAPITALS and we don’t normally use colours unless something is critically important.
  12. We use bold to help people scan key information
  13. We always give people the benefit of the doubt if something can be understood in two ways.
  14. When we write an email in an emotional state we all agree we will save it – and come back to it the next day. And anyway a phone call is preferred by everyone.
  15. If we’re having interpersonal problems, we don’t use email – we’ll pick up the phone or use Skype for Business.
  16. We will review this list every 4th Skype meeting and remind ourselves that we all want to follow it.

The above list is strong and clear. It was built over the course of a facilitated 30 minute discussion and it works. We’re not advocating that you take it word for word  – but why not use this a as springboard for discussing your own team’s behaviours? Building common understanding up front will help your virtual team communicate smoothly and confidently.

And if you want to read more

Here’s a useful document with tips and language for effective communication across cultures.

Requesting information when people don’t want to share it

In the business world, we often have to request information from people who, for a variety of reason, are reluctant to share it with us. This happened to me rather frequently when I worked as an analyst for an international firm in the US. I would have to request information from people from across the country who, although we worked for the same company, had no idea who I was or why they should share anything with me. Sometimes they felt the information would make them look bad, other times they knew that they hadn’t been keeping the information up to date. So how did I learn to deal with the inevitable pushback I received?  By learning from my colleagues, talking with stakeholders and a lot of trial and error I identified 5 key behaviors.

  1. Anticipate and accept the pushback. After the first couple of times, I realized this was to be expected, so I planned for it. I also learnt to not take it personally.
  2. Save time with templates. Since I was sending out information requests several times per week, I decided it best not to re-invent the wheel with each email. I developed very polite email templates. This also freed up my time for other tasks.
  3. Apply gentle pressure. I spoke with my manager who then spoke with their boss. Together they came back and asked me to cc their boss. I did this so that they knew my request couldn’t be ignored. I got quicker responses this way. Any questions I received from their boss I passed on to my manager, as she had requested.
  4. Say thank you. I immediately wrote a thank you email as soon as I received the requested information. This feedback from me meant they (hopefully) remembered me the next time I needed something, and the pushback would no longer be there. I also stopped being the annoying guy and became the friendly guy.
  5. Mix it up. I needed a lot of information from a lot of different people. Calling them each and every time was impractical BUT I tried to mix things up and call people some of the time. This helped to keep things human.

For my email template, I included three things.

  • I explained why I needed the information.
  • I acknowledged they were the experts that had the information I needed.
  • I thanked them in advance for taking the time to respond to my request.

Here is an example email:

Dear Steve,

My name is George Barse, and I work in the xx location. I am currently during a report on zz, for which I need information on yy. I have been told by a colleague that you are the contact person for this information. I would greatly appreciate it if you could provide me with aa as it will help me in the report I am writing for tt.

Thanks in advance for any assistance you are able to provide in this matter.

Yours sincerely,

George Barse

I also created a template for the short thank you email I sent after my request was fulfilled.

Dear Steve,

Once again, thank you for your quick response in providing me with the information I needed for my report. Your help is greatly appreciated. I was able to effectively use the information in my report on zz.

Please let me know if I can help you in any way in the future.

Kind regards,

George Barse

21 Useful phrases for making a request via email:

Here’s some phrases you could use when making a request. The first is very friendly and the last is possible, but not going to make you any friends…

  • Is there any chance you could send me…?
  • Can you just drop me a line to let me know if you can send……?
  • This is just a friendly reminder to ask you to send ……
  • This may be lying at the bottom of your “to do” list but could you possibly send…..?
  • Could you send me…..?
  • Could you kindly let me know whether you can send…….?
  • Could you do me a favor and send me ……?
  • Could you please send me ….?
  • Please could you send me …..?
  • You’d really be helping me out if your could send me….
  • Look forward to receiving the ……It would be great to have ……
  • It would be helpful if you could send……
  • I would really appreciate it if you could send me …..
  • I would appreciate a prompt response and look forward to receiving ….
  • I would be so grateful if you could send me …..?
  • Would it be possible for you to send me…..?
  • Would you kindly send me …….. by Monday?
  • We urgently require the ………… today / within 24 hours
  • If you do not send me ……, I will have no option but to escalate the matter to Mr / Ms…
  • Should I not receive the …….., unfortunately I will be forced to contact ….

Writing escalation emails: 8 tips to help you strike the right tone

As an InCorporate Trainer embedded in the purchasing department at a major player in the automotive industry, my job is to help participants deal with communication challenges. One of the biggest challenges my German purchasers struggle with is striking the right tone when communicating serious messages. We take concrete steps in training to move away from being too direct by familiarizing participants with the softer phrases we tend to use in English. But how soft do you really want to be when you are not happy and the situation demands stronger language? How do you successfully strike this balance without being perceived as rude or arrogant? Let’s try to answer this by looking at a concrete example:

The situation

A participant recently had to tell a company that they had raised their prices too much for the current economic climate. After years of the prices being raised significantly, they decided enough was enough. They demanded an official statement explaining why this had happened once again, before a formal review of the business relationship would take place.

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download8 tips to help you strike the right tone

At a time when you may be pretty angry, it’s important to stick to the facts and to avoid emotions showing obviously in a situation that escalates to this level. Having said that, it needs to be clear that you are angry about what has happened. Finding such a balance is really difficult – for native and non-native speakers alike.

Here are 8 tips you can use to help you find this balance in your next escalation email.

  1. Leave out the ‘hope you are well’ style pleasantries.
  2. Use the first paragraph to talk about your history with the company to remind them that you are an important business partner.
  3. Outline why the situation has escalated.
  4. Explain why you think what has happened is not acceptable. Keep it from getting too personal and leave softer phrasing out.
  5. Remind the company again of what they may lose by ruining the business relationship with you.
  6. Make your demand for future action clear. Using phrases like ‘we expect’ or ‘we require’ are clear and direct.
  7. State the impact of the future action.
  8. Use a formal sign off such as ‘yours sincerely’ or ‘yours faithfully’ to make it clear that the situation is serious. The use of formal language is a very good indicator in English that a matter is serious. Usually when we know people in business, the language we use tends to be informal. The shift back to formal in a long-standing relationship is a sign that the relationship is in danger.

The 8 tips in action

Here is an email which shows the 8 tips above in action.

Dear Mr Smith,

(1) Our company XXX has been dealing with YYY for a number of years now and in this time we have established a strong business relationship (2), with expenditure reaching $1.5 million per annum on your products. 

(3)Each year the price of the product has steadily risen, first from $9 per unit to $12 in 2012 and then again in 2013 to $14 per unit. You have insisted that higher costs in producing and materials have led to these significant rises and that they are out of your control.

However, upon finding out that the price of the product is now $16 per unit, we believe that this is the result of increased profits on YYY’s part, particularly because the purchasing manager at your company confirmed as much in our last negotiation meeting.

We at XXX believe in keeping business relationships for the long term, and feel it is important to treat your counterparts with the utmost respect (4). At this point in time I don’t feel that YYY is respecting our business, which has amounted to a total of $10 million over the last 7 years and involved us making YYY our preferred supplier of this particular product in that time (5). We expect a statement from you by November 11th, 2015 outlining your reasons for the last increase in price and why you believe this is fair (6).

Once we have received this statement we will decide on our future course of action and review our relationship with YYY accordingly (7).

Yours sincerely,

Ms Muller

Do you have any other tips? We’d love to hear the steps you take towards striking the right tone between outlining the seriousness of the situation, yet not coming across as rude.


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:

The alternatives to a weekly update meeting

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VT posterIt’s 11:00 on Monday morning and your team, spread across the world, is about to dial in to a virtual meeting. Why? To update each other on what’s been going on over the past week, and what might happen over the next few weeks. In theory this could be really interesting, useful and beneficial, if it weren’t for the tight deadlines you have this week, and the knowledge that you’re going to be putting in a few late nights to meet them. Do you really need to spend time listening to Thierry, Namrata, and Quentin talking you through their week when you’ve got so much to do?

The reasons why weekly update meetings contribute to the success of the team’s performance

  • They keep you all in contact with each other. Emails are useful, but you don’t talk to each other. There is no real chance to build rapport and trust with your colleagues on the team.
  • They give the manager a chance to talk to and relay information to everyone at the same time.
  • Things happen in the week and everyone then knows that they have an opportunity to talk about them on this regular occasion. Unless something has to be dealt with right now, you can save it until then and not interrupt everyone during the week.
  • High performing teams help each other in difficult situations. If you don’t go to that meeting and share the fact that you are under pressure, nobody will be able to help you out. Everyone is, after all, working towards the same goals.

What makes weekly update meetings great?

There are, again, so many factors that could make these meetings great. This starts with recognizing that there are problems, and dealing with them. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If everyone is well-prepared and sticks to the agenda.
  • If everyone takes turns to speak.
  • If everyone shows interest when the others are speaking and reacts to what the speaker is saying.
  • If the language used is clear so that everyone can understand.
  • If the agenda varies from time to time. These meetings do run a risk of becoming routine. If you change the contact from time to time, this can help with the interest level.
  • If everyone commits to agreed rules.
  • If people refrain from doing other tasks at the same time as the meeting.

The alternatives to having a weekly update meeting

Do you simply want to update and be updated or do you want to help improve your team’s performance? If you’re looking for alternatives to the weekly meeting, then these options might be useful.


There is definitely a time and a place for emails, and they serve the purpose of conveying information. But they can be misread, and they can also be not read. There is no interaction and you have no chance to discuss responses with everyone at the same time unless you want an inbox bombardment.

A team portal or community

A lot of organizations now have their own internal social network. You can use communities for a wide range of purposes. You may also have a portal for your team. Why not use this to post updates before the meeting and then ask team members to talk specifically about one or two of the points? Alternatively they could ask questions on the portal/community that they would like help with. If everyone else has seen the issues in advance, then they have time to think, and will have something to contribute.

What is the structure of the update?

Just like with meetings, it is useful to give team members a common structure if you decide you’ll use email or an online platform for your weekly updates. Ask yourself:

  • What do you want them to share?
  • What tasks are they working on?
  • What challenges are they facing?
  • How can the other members of the team help?
  • What are the next steps?

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help improve the way your (virtual) team works, take a look at and our ebook

The basics of reader-oriented writing

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cult guidelines VT poster A3Good writing is more than perfect grammar or a large vocabulary

Writing is a skill that requires practice regardless of what language you write in. This holds true not only for fiction, but also for writing reports and other business correspondence. How many times have you received a poorly written email or read a report from a colleague that left you scratching your head? The problem often lies in who the writer is focused on. Too often, that focus is either on the writer or the content and not where it should be: the reader. By focusing on the needs of the reader, the writer can deliver the message more effectively and ensure the attention of the reader will be maintained.

The goal is to put the reader in the spotlight

You want to keep the reader’s interest stimulated so they keep reading. Once you are able to answer the questions below and have analyzed what you want to achieve, then you are ready to choose a format or text structure and start writing. You will find that your writing is more directed, and you will gain confidence in your writing ability because you will know why you are writing.

Who are my readers?

Such a simple question, but if you don’t know who your audience is, you are basically writing for yourself, and then it becomes just an ego piece.

Where are my readers from?

This could be relevant. Knowing where your readers are from will help you understand them from a cultural perspective.

What excites them?

This should be the question, not “How do I not bore them?” Once you discover what excites your readers, you will have them hooked, and they will keep coming back for more.

What are they afraid of?

The knowledge of what your readers’ fears are will help you keep the reader engaged by avoiding topics that would cause them to stop reading your piece.

What do I want to share with them and why?

This takes the first question and goes a bit deeper. It is important to understand the reasons behind writing in the first place. It is assumed you have a message or information you want to convey, but knowing why the audience would be interested makes it easier to write more effectively.

How is my content relevant to my intended audience?

It is important to try and see things from the reader’s perspective. If you don’t know the relevancy of your message, the intended audience won’t know it, either. They also won’t waste their time reading what you have written.

What is my and my organization’s history with them?

If you have previous experience with your audience, you can draw on this and learn from it in order to produce more interesting content. Take a previously produced piece and ask yourself how it could have been better. From this introspection, your subsequent pieces will be increasingly valuable to your readers.

How do they like to receive information?

The structure and layout of your content is just as important as the message. Maybe your readers don’t like dense passages full of explanations and prefer lighter writing with graphical explanations. Maybe it’s the opposite. Either way, you owe it to them to find out.

What questions do they have?

Once you understand your readers well enough, you can predict what questions they would ask. By including the answers in your writing, the readers feel you know them well, and they trust you more.

We’re always delighted to hear from you

You know what to do…

(If you are interested in learning more about reader-oriented writing, please consider Target Training’s seminar on this topic)

The importance of writing in plain English

Writing in plain English is important when communicating with others in a business setting. Everybody knows this (or should), but why should plain English be used? The most obvious reason why is to ensure your message is being understood exactly as you meant it. By stating your message plainly and simply the first time, you will not have to waste valuable time and energy clarifying your intent in subsequent emails or contacting people again through other means such as a phone call. Another reason to simplify your business writing is money.

Consider this*:

  • UK businesses lose £6 billion a year because of badly written letters.
  • General Electric saved $275,000 by redrafting manuals into plain English.
  • The US Navy estimated plain English could save it between $250–$300 million every year.

writing emails free ebook

Time is money

Time wasted equates to money lost. Think about what plain English could mean for your business. In a typical office, the average employee receives about 100 messages a day. How much time is spent writing the original document? How many people end up reading the document? How much time is spent reading, processing and clarifying it?

Many people need to be re-trained to write in a simpler way. This is because they are not used to writing in a business environment or for non-native speakers. People also want to show off their large vocabulary or knowledge of grammar.

8 tips for writing in plain English

  1. Remember your audience. They may also be non-native English speakers with a lower level than yours.
  2. Organize your message.  Make sure your message follows a logical path.
  3. Write as if you were talking to the reader. An easy, conversational style will keep you from overcomplicating your sentences.
  4. Keep sentences short. Longer sentences are taxing on the reader. You’re not writing a novel, so don’t write like Jack Kerouac!
  5. Be specific rather than general. The reader doesn’t want to play the guessing game!
  6. Don’t repeat yourself. There is no reason to say the same thing three different ways.
  7. Use simpler words. There is no reason to show off your large vocabulary. This goes back to point 1.
  8. Don’t use jargon. This also goes back to point 1. Not everybody uses the same jargon, even within the same company.

If you have experience with having to write plain English, then you might have your own tips to share. I’d love to hear them and pass them on to my participants. For more tips on writing plain English, here are two interesting links I found.

*Source: Joe Kimble Writing for Dollars

Email phrases for praising (virtual team) performance

Research shows that when we work in virtual teams managers tend to praise far less. In an earlier life, I worked as an analyst for an international corporation in Boston. A large part of my job was generating weekly reports and sending them off to various people. I never received a response, so I never knew if what I was I was doing was adding any actual value. This lack of feedback, whether positive or negative, was sometimes demoralizing.

It is vitally important to praise a job well done

Everybody likes to know that they are doing a good job and are on the right track in their tasks and projects. Working in virtual teams can feel isolating – and it’s motivating to know that your work is being noticed.

Praise does several things:

  • It improves the morale of both the team and the team member
  • It motivates people/teams and increases productivity
  • It’s an opportunity to give positive feedback
  • It builds commitment

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Email phrases for praising performance

Here are 17 phrases you could use the next time you want to praise one of your team members (or all of them) in writing:

  1. The work you did on the project was outstanding.
  2. You are an asset to both our team and our organization
  3. Your performance this past year has been exceptional.
  4. The quality of your work is routinely excellent.
  5. Your professional attitude is much appreciated.
  6. I have been very pleased with your efforts.
  7. Your extra effort and dedication have made this project a success.
  8. I must commend you for your dedication to our team.
  9. You have made a great contribution to the project.
  10. Your consistent professionalism has ensured the success of this project.
  11. You have been an invaluable addition to our team.
  12. Thank you very much for taking the initiative to find a solution to the problem.
  13. You can take pride in the work you have put into this project.
  14. The success of this project is a direct result of your efforts.
  15. Your enthusiasm and passion are exemplary.
  16. Your disciplined approach to problem solving led directly to this project’s success.
  17. You earned my respect with your inspiring performance on the project.

Mix and match and be specific with your praise

It is easy to mix and match the phrases in order to personalize how you want to praise each of your team members. For example, if you take #3 and #6, you can change it to: “I have been very pleased with your performance this year.” Or, you can use two or more and combine them into one sentence: “I have been very pleased with your efforts, you have made a great contribution to the project.”

Who doesn’t like praise?

Everyone enjoys receiving praise, don’t they? My colleague, Kate Baade, wrote in a recent post that it’s important to point out the positives as and when they happen. Don’t wait until the once a year performance appraisal interview to give praise. Kate, I fully agree.


Email MADNESS!! Misusing and abusing email –and what you can do to stop this

Knowing how to use email is simply assumed

Did you know that the majority of email traffic comes from the business world, with business users sending and receiving an average of 121 emails a day in 2014? Email is the most pervasive form of communication in the business world, and therefore effective email writing means effective business communication. But surprisingly (or perhaps not) email doesn’t always mean effective communication, does it?

One of the more interesting aspects of being a trainer is the opportunity to meet, talk with and learn from other professionals in a wide range of jobs and industries. The following is a true story. I’ve changed names to protect the innocent – and the guilty. Sadly though, I’m guessing that as you read this you’ll have your own stories of email madness spring to mind.

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download


The use, misuse and abuse of email communication (yes, this is a true story)

I met Sven in an open seminar. Sven was the manager of the facilities management department at a large manufacturing company. His administrative location had just moved premises, and as you can imagine this was an incredibly busy time for Sven and his team. However even though (or perhaps because) Sven was busy he was determined to attend the time management seminar his HR department had organized with us. Sven set his out of office reply up the night before, and I met him on a cloudy morning the next day.  The training went very well as the group shared, discussed and developed practical solutions to the problems they faced. Then at lunch time the following emerged …

Somebody (let’s call him Michael) had sent Sven a mail and received Sven’s out of office reply. Sven had not changed his automatic signature block and Michael knew that Sven had moved offices, so why did his signature block still have the old address? Michael concluded that this could well be an IT problem, but as he wasn’t sure he sent a mail to his 12 teammates asking if they had experienced something similar. Of these 12 teammates, one sent a mail to the IT help desk, one of them sent a mail to his line manager (let’s call her Marie) … and one of them sent a mail to Sven’s colleague, who then sent a mail to Sven.

Marie sent a mail titled “URGENT – critical email problem” to the CFO. The CFO, who was in a meeting, saw the title and sent a mail to the Head of IT asking what the problem was and how quickly it could be resolved. The Head of IT sent a mail to the IT help desk asking what the problem was and how long it would take to be resolved. … and I think you can imagine the rest yourself. At some point during lunch time somebody from the IT help desk phoned Sven to ask whether he knew his signature block was old. At this point Sven explained it was his oversight – and that he’d update it when he got back into the office the next day.

Key learning points that all email users should keep in mind

Now obviously the above is not strictly speaking about just an email problem. But the elements of the story do highlight some all-too-frequent behaviours. Here are 4 key learning points which, if they’d been followed would have prevented the situation above:

Just because you can send an email it doesn’t mean you have to!

It is possible to over communicate sometimes. How many emails do you receive each day? One of the biggest sources of stress at work is the sheer volume of emails that people receive. So, before you even begin writing an email, always take a few seconds and ask yourself: Is this really necessary? Then ask yourself the same question again before you hit “send”.

Know when to use cc , and when not

Discuss this with your colleagues and agree on a “code of conduct”. Keep in mind that people can interpret what “cc” means in different ways. They can also read meaning into who was and was not copied in.

Think carefully about the subject lines in email

In particular think about how often you want to use words such as URGENT, NEED HELP, PRIORITY etc. If you use them too often in your subject lines, you should be prepared that when you really need to draw attention to your email, your reader won’t be interested.

Know when to pick up the phone

Email is not always the most effective form of communication. Sometimes, picking up the phone is faster. Email is great for giving information, sharing updates or making simple requests. However use the phone if something could be a sensitive or emotional topic, or if you need to deal with questions that are likely to need some back-and-forth discussion.

Your email madness

As I was preparing this post, everyone I spoke to about it had their own email madness story to share. You can use the comments function below to share your example of email madness with our readers.

Using the 3 dimensions of customer service in business communication

In a previous post, I talked about the 3 dimensions of customer service and how balancing the needs of your customer in each of the dimensions is a large step towards customer satisfaction. This post focuses on how you can use the 3 dimensions of customer service in your day-to-day business communication.

A quick reminder of the 3 dimensions

  • The business dimension – the reason for contacting you
  • The human dimension – the personal need of your customer (assurance, empathy, understanding)
  • The hidden dimension – everything that is going on behind the scenes

Read the full post

Focus on the person, not on the problem

Regardless of how the customer query ends up on your to-do list, and regardless of the type of query, the person most likely contacted you with a business problem. More often than not, you can tell how the customer is feeling by the tone of their voice, or the tone of their email. If you spot something in the tone of the conversation, you need to address it. You can’t ignore it.

Even if there’s nothing in the call or email that explicitly displays emotion, you should be able to address how you think the person is affected by the problem. Of course you need to solve the problem as soon as you can, but it shouldn’t be your first focus.

Here’s an example.


Customer query

Dear John,

When can we expect delivery of the replacement parts? Note that the order was placed almost 7 weeks ago.




John’s reply to the customer

Dear Bruno,

I understand that the delayed delivery will start causing problems for your end-client if the parts aren’t delivered soon (1). As you know, these parts are normally dispatched within 4 weeks of ordering (2).  I tracked your order. The problem lays in the manufacturing department. I have just spoken with a colleague there, and she said that the parts should be dispatched within 7 days. (3)

Leave it with me (4). I will follow up with my colleague on Monday and contact you to let you know if everything’s on schedule and when you can expect delivery of the parts (5).

My sincere apologies for the delay (6).

With regards,


What John did

  1. John starts the mail by saying that he understands the impact this has. (Human/business dimension)
  2. John reminds the customer how it “normally” works. (Business dimension)
  3. John tells the customer what he has done to find out about the order. (Hidden dimension)
  4. John takes responsibility for the query, assuring Bruno that someone is taking care of his problem. (Human dimension)
  5. John explains how he will follow up. (Business/hidden dimension)
  6. John apologizes for the service breakdown. (Human dimension)


Try it for yourself

Use the comments box at the bottom of this post to reply to this email, using all 3 dimensions:

I recently sent you a fax to cancel my contract with you. I have received no confirmation and my bank account shows that I’m still paying for your service. When I contacted your customer service department, they told me that I’d receive a confirmation within 6 weeks.

I’m still waiting.

Please let me know the status of my cancellation asap.

Thank you,

Getting the tone right in your emails – part 2

In part 1 of this blog post, we looked at how the way your email sounds (the tone), can lead to unexpected and undesirable consequences. So how do you make sure the tone in your emails is right? Here are 8 practical tips that our trainers share with our clients:

Be careful with humour

Tone is everything when it comes to humour. In particular irony and sarcasm just don’t work in emails. Emoticons can be useful for clarifying your intent – but it’s best to only use them when you are being informal with people you know well.

writing emails that people read

Choose how formal you want to be

Because we send and receive so many email we tend to think that emails can be less formal than traditional letters. Keep in mind though, that the way you write can be seen by strangers and colleagues alike as a reflection of your own professionalism, intelligence, values, and attention to detail. A good guideline, shared by a manager in Luxembourg is “not as formal as a letter on paper, but still not as friendly as I would be with my colleagues or peers when I’m talking with them”

Be polite

Being polite sounds easy, right? It’s important however to keep in mind that what is seen as “polite” is highly dependent upon your cultural background. What may sound polite to one culture may be considered less so by another ( i.e. German engineers sending mails to colleagues India). Likewise a “polite” email, can be misread as being too distant, indirect ,insincere or non-committal (i.e. English managers writing to Dutch counterpart). So what can you do? Looking to find a more respectfully neutral professional tone is a good start, and if you have received mils from them, take a minute and study their approach. If you aren’t sure, my advice is that it’s better to be too polite than not enough (but then again I’m British so this is culturally biased J)

Don’t type in all caps

EVER! It’s the same as SHOUTING at someone.

Don’t overuse punctuation!!!!!!

And be cautious about using bold, underlining and color.

Be careful when using cc’s and bcc’s

People can interpret them in different ways and read meaning into who was and was not copied, and why. Proactively deal with this by simple techniques such as  @ Miguel –fyi, no need to do anything.

Think about how it all fits together

Your choice of words, sentence length, punctuation, letter case, sentence length, opening, closing and capitalization. Take a look at the mail below….

Scott –

I need the dates confirmed by 5 p.m. today.

Thank you in advance!


Does Martin feel tired, annoyed, or just fine? The truth is, we just don’t know. Much of our interpretation depends upon our previous emails with Martin, our current relationship with Martin – and how do we feel at the moment – are we tired or frustrated?


Now look at the same email, written differently

Hi Scott,

Could you get me the dates by 5 today? I’d like to send them on to the client before I leave.



Most people would agree that, in comparison to the first example, Martin is feeling friendly enough here. The differences are small – but important. There’s no single difference between the two mails – it’s a combination of opening, punctuation, phrasing , content and closing.


Ask somebody you trust to read your email first

If you are not sure about the tone of an email you are sending, have someone else read it and give you feedback before you send it.  If no one else is available, save the email in your draft folder and come back and re-read it later.

More on emailing

You can find lots more emailing tips on our blog. There’s also our latest Ebook for you to download.