3 Mistakes That Make Your Email Bomb

It’s not often I read a business book and think, “Man…that was easy to follow, really practical, full of top tips and worth the cover price.” (Indeed, one book I slogged through recently felt like I’d been given double homework for being naughty in class.)

But after reading the recently published Email Attraction by Kim Arnold, that was exactly what went through my mind – followed by, “I wonder if she’d be up for sharing a few of these top tips with my blog readers?” (Because, you know, I like to bring you tasty morsels to up your personal brand game.)

Lucky for me – and you – she said “Yes”. So without further ado, here are three of Kim’s top tips, straight from the horse’s mouth, for making sure your emails don’t bomb. (Or to use a saying of hers: to discover why no-one wants to read your sh*tty emails.)

Kim Arnold

Mistake #1: Writing like you’re on Downton

People who’re fun, engaging and warm in person can turn into turn-of-the century courtiers on email. Here’s what I mean…

In person: Here’s the report. 
On email: Please find attached the aforementioned report as requested.

In person: Let me know what you think.
On email: Kindly provide feedback at your earliest convenience.

In person: Hi, how are you?
On email: I hope this email finds you well.

The language is so formal that every email sentence could start with ‘prithee’ or end with ‘good sir’. (Try it.) Yet we desperately cling to this kind of formal language like a safety blanket to make us feel more professional or clever. But in reality, stuffy phrases and words alienate. 

Studies show that using long words actually makes us appear less, not more intelligent, than we are. With every ‘aforementioned’, we shoot ourselves in the foot. And it creates a disconnect in our personal brand – people get one version of us in person/on Zoom and another one entirely on email. It can undermine trust, fast. 

So it’s time to loosen up. Write like you speak. Read your emails out loud to see if they sound like you. And if not?  Time for a rewrite.

Mistake #2: You’re too darn British

‘I know you’re probably really busy and I’m so sorry to ask but if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at this report and giving me feedback if you have a chance at some point that would be wonderful but no problem at all if not and I’m sorry for asking and for even existing.’

Do you write apologetic overly polite emails like this?  We think we’re being respectful, but with this waffly word salad we actually make it harder for people to figure out what the hell we want. And that means we’re actually not being respectful of their time. 

So ditch the apologies and be more direct with your ask: ‘I’d be grateful if you could give me feedback on the report by Friday.’ It’s still polite but gets to the point, fast.

Mistake #3: You’re Jenny/Jeremy Generic

Generic, automated email sign-offs like ‘Kind regards’ or the-bleach-my-eyeballs ‘KR’ create a terrible impression. They say ‘You’re not important enough for me to bother to personalise this email.’

You wouldn’t say goodbye to everyone in real life in the same way (at least not pre-COVID). Some people you might handshake, some you might hug, others you might do the awkward ‘is-it-one-cheek-or-two-kiss’ that sometimes ends in a horrifying accidental meeting of lips (an excruciating exchange with a colleague a few years back is still ingrained on my memory).

A single sign off for all your emails is never going to feel personal or create a connection. Vary it according to how well you know the recipient, how formal they are and what you’re writing about. You’re much more likely to create a connection and get a response with a more personalised approach.

What email mistakes would you add? (Mine would be people not paying attention to the sender’s name, like shortening my name to Jenny when I’ve signed myself Jennifer in my initial message. Arrgghhhh.) Or will you admit to any of those mistakes yourself – and if so, what will you be doing from now on? The comment box below is just itching to be used, so feel free to share your thoughts.

PS – For anyone wondering, Kim’s not a pal or someone who approached me to help publicise her book. I’d been a client of hers, saw she’d written the book, bought it, read it, enjoyed it and wanted to share that with you. There were definitely no brown envelopes full of cash shoved across a table!

Like this? Share it or join in the discussion…

21 responses to “3 Mistakes That Make Your Email Bomb”

  1. Tony O says:

    Ugh! Guilty as charged. Thank you both for the wake-up call. Need to shape up on these.

  2. Debbie Ratcliffe says:

    Another guilty person I am afraid! I will try to improve and thank you for sharing. I remember a comment from an international colleague who had been asked if they would like to provide feedback on something. They didn’t want to so didn’t but their Brit boss was expecting it – case in point for avoiding the word salad.

  3. Mark Mackenzie-Smith says:

    My pet hate….’I hope you are well’. Really, do you?

    Tell me the last time you sat on a plane about to take off and the captain said ” Good morning and welcome on board our flight to London, I hope we are going to get there….”

    Why do people who email me every other day always start emails asking how I am, just go straight to the point. You can still be polite and engaging.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      It’s like when people in shops say “See you later” and you think, “I doubt it”.

  4. Linda Grant says:

    Some good reminders on how too much ‘formality’ might not match your personal brand so present a contrary picture of you in person. Sounds like it would be worth a read!

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      The book was great and beautifully laid out/graphically illustrated. Quick and easy to read.

  5. Karen D says:

    I wonder at people who press ‘Send’ without first reading their email back to themselves to check that it makes sense. It’s too late to notice those spelling mistakes, or the double ‘the the’ et al once you’ve pressed that button.

    And please only reply to whomever really needs it – the ‘Reply all’ button is used far too much.

  6. Emine says:

    Nice, happy to see a trend to a more authentic and less formal level in emailing. Thanks for this great advice and suggestions!

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      Bottom line is always: write as you speak. Glad you’re on board with that one Emine 🙂

  7. Kate Smith says:

    Each to their own about the ‘I hope you are well’ intro, but I genuinely do! I might vary it to a ‘how are you?’ or a ‘I hope your week is going well?’ but the sentiment is the same – it is given with genuine warmth. And I find it blunt when people just dive straight in without some kind of greeting. That said, I don’t work within an organisation anymore so perhaps it’s that I don’t send and receive a million emails every day now(thank goodness!).

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      I agree that an intro definitely softens and email and adds warmth. I think it’s more using the bog-standard ‘I hope you are well’ tends to feel like it’s put in out of habit. Whereas when you change the wording – as you do Kate – it feels different and more genuine. As for receiving fewer emails now you’re your own boss…I hear you sister! I too have loved a slimmed down inbox.

  8. Emily says:

    I struggle to know how best to do an intro to an email that sounds genuine. Going straight in feels too abrupt, but as pointed out, the generic ones feel exactly that!

    I’m also guilty of being too British, I say ‘hence’ a lot in my emails, but I do also say it in person a fair bit as well. It’s something that I’m conscious of whether it makes me sound like I’m trying too hard.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      If you say ‘hence’ in person then it’s not so out of character to put it in your email. It might not flow as well in writing as it would with the spoken word though,as people won’t be so used to seeing it.

  9. Tony O says:

    The situation is far worse than I thought. I was about to press “send” on my monthly report when I realised that I was about to commit all three sins in one e-mail. I’ve had a go at simplifying it, but probably won’t go the whole hog of starting the message with “Ey up”, since my readership won’t have a clue. I had better get hold of a copy of that book.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      Oh my word! Just as well you’re a regular reader of this blog or you may have continued committing these mistakes unchecked!

  10. Denis Kaye says:

    I agree that the ‘top and tail’ of an email is important for establishing and maintaining rapport. Whilst not a fan of ‘hope you are well?’ it is little different from our standard oral greeting of ‘how are you?’ I always answer with something along the lines of being fine or being better than the weather etc.

    As for the tail of an email I do get irritated by those who don’t make it personal and use a template regardless of the recipient. How long does it take to adapt it to reflect your relationship to the recipient?

    I have been waging a war on excessive verbiage in business communications and that war started long before email was around! We may have got rid of the ‘enclosed herewith’ generation but it has been replaced by the equally ridiculous ‘I am reaching out to you’ generation!

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone ‘reach out to me’ in an email. Maybe they think you’re one of The Four Tops Denis!

  11. […] 3 mistakes that make your email bomb – It’s a short, snappy article I wrote for personal brand guru, Jennifer Holloway’s, blog. […]

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