Three Phases to Email Sensitivity
By Catherine Franz
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The neurophysiological dynamics of understanding each email message are very complex. From that complexity, three basic phases float to the top that you will want to become familiar with. I like to label these: (1) the association phase, (2) the connection phase, and (3) the reaction phase. Let us look at each of these, and how the writer and reader can assume a more active role.
In the Association Phase, the sender's words are read and converted to an image in the reader's mind, optimally the same image the writer held in his mind. Sometimes, the writer's words lack enough information and the recipient cannot grasp the image. The word count has nothing to do with the creation of an image. I have read long emails that dance around any possibility of creating an image even if the recipient could read between the lines.
The first question I ask myself when receiving an email is: "Is what they are saying giving me enough information so I can form a clear image?" If not, I ask, "Am I in an open space at the moment to translate this image?" Sometimes, when pressed for time or there's too many thoughts swirling in my head, the space isn't available. If not in the right space, I move the email to a "to be read later" subfolder, and schedule a follow-up time to reread.
Later, after returning, and in a good space to reread, and the image is still not appearing, I send a reply email to the sender asking for clarity. My language usually goes something like this: "Thank you for your email. I have read it several times and can't seem to form a clear image of what you are asking. Could you please ask again in a different way so that I can give it my full attention and respect it deserves?"
If the email covers several subjects that were confusingly intermixed, I will also include some additional language like this: "When I write emails with various topics, I find it beneficial to create separate topic titles that focus on what comes next. Could you possible do this to add to the clarity?"
It is the sender's responsibility to convert their image into words. The right words that the reader can transform back into the same image given. Don't take on the writer's responsibility, or make assumptions, it only leads to miscommunication. If you do, the image they form of you will be off kilter and negative.
The Connection Phase. When writing your response, you will want to make sure the reader receives a clear image of what you are sending as well.
This means that your words need to match the return image you want to convey. If the topic is about apples, you do not want to add an orange in the middle of the apple image. Match apples to apples first because that was responding to the original image.
If you need to add an orange for topic support, place the information after the apple discussion in order not to distort the original image. This lets the receiver digest the apple and then tells them that another image is about to come. Their mind will prepare the space for the new image. When offering the orange, tell them the purpose of the orange and why you are adding the image. This way the reader knows to open a new file.
Another question I like to ask myself, after writing and before sending, one you might like to use, "Will the reader be able to file the image I'm sending in the same folder they began with?"
Our brains file information just as if we were dropping files in a filing cabinet manner.
Instead of just telling the reader, show the reader the image, and what folder to tuck their image in. The reader is expecting this answer. If they don't receive it, they wonder what to do with the image, it doesn't match any file in their cabinet. This splits their focus, slows down their connection, or can even halt the connection in toto.
I am sure you have your own favorite topic transition phrases; here are seven of my own. When you give these transition phrases a line of their own, the receiver's brain acts quickly to note an orange is coming.
- Let me guess what you might be thinking.
- As odd (unusual) as it may seem...
- I am not at all surprised.
- There's a story that goes with this, and I will get to this in the next paragraph.
- Let me see if I can make this a little easier.
- Its hard to believe, but...
- In other words, ...
The Reaction Phase. Writing an email response is not the same as speaking to that person. You don't have the immediate feedback from their body language, their silence, or huh when it isn't clear. Connecting via email with its time lapse also causes difficulty. You experience the same thing when you call, leaving a voice mail, and the party returns your call days later. If you don't state in the voice mail what you are calling about, or the person doesn't restate the purpose when they call back, your mind takes moments looking for the appropriate filing cabinet and file.
Sometimes I receive a response back several weeks later and the original email I wrote isn't included. Then I must stop think or even hunt for the original email. A very time consuming process.
I find it best to begin a returning response with a "this is where we left off" paragraph. Don't assume the reader still holds the previous image in their mind. They don't. Many images came and went during that space and the previous email sits in their inbox, file folder, or cabinet or worse dismissed due to lack of connection, in order to continue their processes.
It is important to reread the email before hitting send. Not just for grammar or spelling but to see that you convey the right image. It is the time to ask, "Did I convey the appropriate image with a file folder connection?" If yes, hit send.
© Copyright 2005, Catherine Franz. All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Franz, a eight-year Certified Professional Coach, Graduate of Coach University, Mastery University, editor of three ezines, columnist, author of thousands of articles website: http://www.abundancecenter.com
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