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Slow Down and Write Better Emails

By Erica Dahawan, writing for the Harvard Business Review…

Misunderstandings are rampant in today’s workplaces. While poor communication habits may feel inevitable with colleagues, we should always strive to engage with clarity and empathy, especially as we come to rely more on remote work and digital communication. What is a good first step to improving our habits? Relearning what it means to read carefully and write clearly.

Not so long ago, we shared information with our colleagues across a table, listening to people’s ideas and responding accordingly. Today, so many of those exchanges happen in written (or typed) form — think email, text, IM — meaning that listening in its traditional sense has been replaced by reading text on a screen. The problem with this, according to the linguist Naomi Baron, is that we comprehend less when we read on a screen than we do when we read print; we devote less time to reading something in full, and tend to skim and search for key takeaways. And when it’s our turn to reply to a message, we feel so burdened by the volume of emails we have to write that we end up sending sloppy, terse, or confusing responses.

Given how central reading and writing comprehension is to our virtual lives, it’s time to remind ourselves what good communication looks like. As I describe in my book, Digital Body Languagereading carefully is the new listening, and writing clearly is the new empathy. So before you send off that next email, pause and ask yourself these three questions.

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