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Influencing by email [Week 4 of our 5-week series!]

Posted by on September 7, 2011

Last week, we talked about how Influencing by Letter (really!). Today, in Week 4 of Influencing When Not Face-to-Face, we’ll discuss Influencing by Email.

Influencing by Email

Sending someone an email is essentially a one-way transaction like a letter, although delivery is generally speedier and the response can be more immediate.

With email, you are only able to convey things from your own perspective. While emails are extremely good at rapidly and conveniently conveying information, they are limited as an influencing medium because of the absence of interactivity. In fact, because of the informal and often abbreviated style of emails, they can lead to significant and sometimes dramatic misunderstandings.

However, it is possible to build and maintain relationships by email. Many people do this, generally where they share an interest or hobby, and often without ever meeting face-to-face.

A specialized form of email would be participation in an online discussion group or chat room. This provides an extra element of interaction as responses are faster, delayed only by typing and transmission speeds.

Appropriate Influencing Behaviors
Generally, the message writer sets the agenda, so “push” styles from the Positive Power and Influence model are likely to dominate.

However, in creating your email, you can employ “pull” words, responding to points previously raised by your correspondent. For example:

  • Showing you have listened – “I realize that you think I should stay over longer when I go to the U.S.”
  • Exploring with questions – “How do you feel about joining us at the Management Committee meeting next Wednesday?”
  • Finding and building on common ground – “We both seem to feel that Angela would make a good project manager for this. I believe we can sit down and really get to grips with a way of releasing her from her current role and get everyone behind this project.”
  • Openness – “I’m feeling rather confused by the decision making process at the moment. I’m not sure how best to get involved.”

As with a letter, the absence of an immediate response means you can never really be sure of the impact of your statements, unless the other person chooses to tell you.

Verbal and Non-Verbal Components of Your Message
Only the words come through. This makes it critical that, if you are looking to influence someone, you choose words which accurately convey your message without ambiguity. Precision and conciseness are at a premium, although the shorthand style that many people employ in emails can have the impact of terseness or abruptness.

Some email users employ combinations of punctuation marks to convey the emotional element of the “dance” (your body language). Known as emoticons, they represent facial expressions and can be helpful (providing the recipient can decode them).

Here are some examples (you’ll have to tilt your head to the left to get the full effect):

🙂 smiling
:-O shouting
🙁 sad
😉 winking
😎 smiling – wearing glasses

Benefits of Using Email to Influence

  • A record may exist of the message (although messages can be readily deleted, they can often still be retrieved)
  • The recipient deals with the message when they choose
  • Allows the receiver to repeat (re-read) the message until it is understood
  • Good for informal communication
  • Can be quick and convenient
  • Chat rooms allow more interactivity

Disadvantages of Using Email to Influence

  • It can take some time for the message to be received, and receipt doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily been read
  • You generally don’t get an immediate response after sending
  • The sender isn’t able to easily check if the message has been understood
  • People are often included on numerous distribution and copy lists, so they have an in-tray bulging with messages “for your information.” This can mean that people might miss the impact of your important message in the mass of general junk email.

Influencing Tips and Hints

  • Make the subject line informative so that people can scan their inbox and understand whether your email requires urgent attention
  • State the purpose of the email at the beginning: Is it for Action or Information?
  • Make it clear what action you’re requesting, how, and by when
  • Make it clear if you expect a response
  • Using different fonts/colors to emphasize elements of your message can be helpful, although only if the recipient’s email software can decode them
  • Useful for sending attached files, although you should check that the recipient has the appropriate software to open and use these
  • Beware getting into email “conversations” where the recipient is online and immediately responds, then you respond, then they respond…it’s quicker to communicate on the telephone!

Think of mixing different forms of communication. You may need to supplement e-mail with a phone call, videoconference, or personal meeting for particularly critical or difficult phases in the influencing process.

Now you know how to influence over the telephone, by videoconference, and by letter! Come back next week for my Final Thoughts, tips and hints for Influencing When Not Face-to-Face.

Angela Steatham is an expert trainer for CGWA. Based in the U.K., she delivers the Positive Power and Influence program throughout Europe.