Talaera Talks - Business English Communication

45. How To Write Better Business Emails, Faster - Talaera Talks

April 27, 2022 Talaera Business English Communications Training Episode 45
Talaera Talks - Business English Communication
45. How To Write Better Business Emails, Faster - Talaera Talks
Show Notes Transcript

The House Technique is an easy framework that will help you write business emails much faster and more effectively. Learn what are the main mistakes that people make in emails and how you can avoid them.

Relevant resources:


Paola Pascual  0:03 
Welcome to Talaera Talks, the business English communication podcast for non native professionals. My name is Paola and I am co hosting the show with Simon.

Simon Kennell  0:13 
In this podcast, we're going to be covering communication advice and tips to help express yourself with confidence in English in professional settings. So we hope you enjoy the show.

Simon Kennell  0:24 
Welcome to another episode of Talaera Talks. My name is Simon and wherever you are, as always, I hope you are doing well. I'm joined today by Paola actually on the other side of the Atlantic today in my home state of Florida. Paola, what are you doing over there?

Paola Pascual  0:46 
Hi, Simon. Yeah, I'm so happy to be back here. I hadn't been to Florida for like 10 years. I used to live here and I'm back visiting some friends now. Yeah.

Simon Kennell  0:57 
Are the alligators still biting over there?

Paola Pascual  1:00 
Um, I hope not around here. I haven't seen them yet. I just got just got here two weeks ago. Yeah. How are you doing today?

Simon Kennell  1:11 
I'm doing I'm doing great. You know, it is close to the summer. We are very close here in Denmark. So everybody is very excited. But ya know, doing doing great. We are all I think busy as always, and, and you are working on something that's very exciting over in the States for just a little bit cooking up something exciting. Can you tell us a little bit about we talked a little bit about it before, but tell us a little bit about it.

Paola Pascual  1:38 
Yeah, so actually, the reason I am on this side of the Atlantic is because I went to New York, I met with, with the team with the Talaera team, and we are working on a new product. And that is self paced courses. So that means that apart from all the other products that we have, like one on one sessions, and group courses, and workshops, and all these ways in which people, people can learn, we are creating this system where you can learn at your own pace, you can get instant feedback, you can learn all of these topics. And actually, the first course that we're rolling out is email, business email, so email writing, and how to write effective emails in English. So that's what brings us to the topic of today.

Simon Kennell  2:24 
Yeah, that's so exciting. I mean, I know, for myself just kind of watching from afar, it's like, I can't wait to see what it looks like everything, like the little glimpses I've seen, so far, everything is so cool. And it's, you know, a really cool option for a lot of people out there that, you know, if they're not able to do one on ones, or they're not in a big company that can, you know, get them into a group session or something like that, that everybody like we're trying to make, you know, just like the podcast is possible for everybody that, you know, everybody can can could get to a group course, or to a self paced learning course, and do this. And I just think it's very cool. You know, like, we're creating this ecosystem of communication training, where, like you said it before Paola, like, you can come to Telaera and walk away, you know, a communication expert, which that's, I mean, that's awesome. That's awesome. And yeah, that brings us to brings us to business email writing, which is something that we, we just, always talk about, we always hear about. And yeah, I mean, where do we even start with, with business email writing?

Paola Pascual  3:40 
Well, if you we could go on, on and on forever talking about business emails, but I think for today, because I mean, I cannot even I don't know how we've been a whole year doing the podcast over a year, and we haven't even done a single episode, one of our most popular topics, and I think we can start a really good start, and we'll do more if people are interested. But we can address the two main challenges that people have, I think, among our students, you mean who I mean, who are native English speakers, but I've seen this with also native speakers. The first one is and let me know what you think Simon? Email structure.

Simon Kennell  4:22 
Right, right. You know, this goes back to the point like I always say, we are not necessarily in the business of making someone the best English speaker in the world. It's about making someone a really, really good English communicator. Right. And just like you said, I know so many people who English is their first language and I I have a really tough time understanding what they're saying or how they're communicating. I mean, you've seen there's so many examples, if you just Google, you know, bad emails, you'll see so many examples of just emails where I'm like what in the world is going on? Right? And that first thing that structure is so important. Because structures are also Yeah, it's very different, I think in a lot of places. But there is a standard kind of structure that you can have. And you have a great kind of rundown of how we should think about the structure of an email.

Paola Pascual  5:23 
Yes, so we try to break it down into very actionable steps, because the structure goes beyond the, Hi, Anna, I hope you're doing well. And then here's a chunk of text. That's super unstructured. And then let me know if you have any questions. Bye. It goes way beyond that. And we created this technique that we call the house technique for, for business emails. And that's exactly how you should build your email how you would build a house. Instead of starting with the decorations, like who would start a house by adding some plants, right? You first do the walls, then once you have the walls, then you do the furniture, and then you do the decorations and not the other way around. Right? I don't know if that's making any sense at the moment?

Simon Kennell  6:11 
No, it makes total sense. My question is, yeah, what are the walls and the foundation and all of this, because, I mean, this is maybe just the way my brain works. But I really like having a kind of a list or a structure of I need to do steps 1, 2, 3, and 4, and then I just make that into a habit, and then it becomes very easy. And that's what I've taught to a lot of my students as well is just get this basic house structure and turn it into a habit. And then your the time that you spend on writing emails goes from, I mean, 20-25 minutes on one email, which is, you know, crazy to think about spending that much time to five minutes, right. And we can really, we can do that with this house technique. So let's, let's get into it. What what do we do with the house structure?

Paola Pascual  7:02 
Yeah. So first, we start with a stable base. Those are the walls. And the walls are two basics. First is why are you writing? And what next? Those are the walls. That's if they if they don't have time to read anything else, those two should be super clear. Why are you writing and what next? So that's that, at least we have the basics. Then we can start adding the furniture. That's the supporting information. So you know, it is necessary. But it's also secondary. Right? Not the reason of your email is not what what's next. But sometimes you do need additional information like and attachment and or specifying the points that you would like to cover in the meeting, so on and so forth. And then once you're done, then you can really add the decoration. Those are the formalities, the niceties. You know, those are the finishing touches, touches to make your email look pretty and nice and polite. Like oh, hello, thank you please chat soon. And I look forward to hearing from you, and all that that.

Simon Kennell  8:09 
Okay, so I love the idea that at the core right at the center is the WHY and the WHAT, right? Well, which it's yeah, what why are you writing? What do you need? And I think we've all read emails where we don't know, like, that's the first thing that I look for when I'm reading an email is okay, because usually when I'm going through emails, it's a list of emails. And I just want to get through them, you know, so it's like, when I click on an email, I'm like, Okay, why is this person writing? What do they need? And then I'm okay, I'm going to the next one, right?

Paola Pascual  8:48 
Yeah, and the biggest mistake, or the most common mistake that I always see is that people start the other way around. So and I understand that it's very tempting to start the other way round, start first with the formalities, and then all add all sorts of supporting information. And then lastly, you ask the question that you're wanting to ask, like, I have to read through all of this to actually get to the point. Yeah, much more effective. If you do it the other way around, start with the walls. That's the what, why you're writing and what next, and then you can have supporting information if they need to read more, and then you can be you know, add all those decorations.

Simon Kennell  9:26 
And and so how do we do this? How do we how do we write the what are the why like, I mean, what's like a good kind of just first phrase that I mean, would would you just be totally direct? And like just say, I'm writing you because?

Paola Pascual  9:43 
Yeah! I mean, we usually do add the Hi Simon, I hope you're wel. That's totally fine. But then you can some phrases for the walls are I'm writing to you about our last meeting, or I'm reaching out because I wanted to get your thoughts on this project. Or I want to let you know that our meeting tomorrow has been cancelled.

Simon Kennell  10:04 
Right? So very direct, very straight to the point. Great. Great. And then, so it's the why you're reading and then the what? What's the how do we frame the what?

Paola Pascual  10:16 
The why could look. So again, some something super straightforward something for example, like, please let me know if this works. Please let me know you're available for a call tomorrow morning. Or please let me know if we can reschedule the meeting for next week.

Simon Kennell  10:32 
Right, right. Right. Right. Great. Great. So and I think, as well, you know, sometimes it's not always going to be so simple of just, you know, hey, this is why I'm writing this is what I need by sometimes you'll, you're going to need to explain something. But so it's tempting in that situation, to take some time to write out this like, lengthy email explaining some big thing, right? Do you think it's just even better to just give a couple bullet points or just say, look, I would love to jump on a call with you, here are some times or what do you think's the way to do it in that way?

Paola Pascual  11:12 
Well, I'll ask the question back to you. What do you prefer to read very long emails with all the information or just bullet points to know the basics and move on?

Simon Kennell  11:24 
That's, I mean, for me, it's always bullet points, like, you know, if there's a situation that I think it needs to go really in depth, then I think we just need to move to a call, you know, and I've done that a couple times, where anytime it gets into this back and forth novel writing, it's it. You know, life's too short, you know, if we got to just move it to a call, and we can get, you know, we can get through a lot of this much quicker. So yeah, I'm totally with you.

Paola Pascual  11:55 
It goes both ways. Like when you show respect for other people's time, I, there's this super famous quote that says, I am sorry, for sending you this long letter, I didn't have time to shorten it. Because it really takes time to condense information, it's much easier to just write a novel. So one, it shows respect. And the other one, and I even think even more importantly, is efficiency. If you want to make sure people read something, then don't write so much.

Simon Kennell  12:21 
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Right. I mean, for any of you listening, a great source on this is Cal Newport, who does a lot of work on like, productivity and, and communication. And he talks a lot about how the introduction of emails and organizations was really like the death of productivity in organizations, because people get into this loop of just sending these huge emails back and forth. Right. So yeah, so we have the house right? That's, that's a really important part for us. You know, the what and the why in the middle, and then building out from there, right. So. So what do we do after the what and the why? What can we what can we build on with that?

Paola Pascual  13:04 
Then we need to, that's when we need to add the furniture. And that's the supporting information, I usually recommend building a more of a minimalistic house, rather than clogged one. So what are the basics you need the sofa? You need the bed? And that's, you know, pretty much it? What is the information that they really need to complete that next step? Yeah. And everything else, you can tell them over a call or an attachment or an external link.

Simon Kennell  13:34 
So that supporting info which can be like bullet points, or what have you, is literally just to support if it's if it's really needed to support the the action that you're asking for. Right? So yeah, it's like, hey, could we have a more in depth discussion to talk about the changes in the HR department due to COVID-19? I'm available on Monday from 10 to three, right? So that's like the why, right. But if there's like specific things that that person needs to prepare, then you can add in, you know, three questions, I want to focus on how we're dealing with company culture options to work from the office, how are we adapting our OKRs? Right? So then you're even specifying it and that's, that's really supporting the why I'm writing right?

Paola Pascual  14:27 
Exactly that and then once you have that, you can wrap it up, you can put the nice little ribbon on top and have all these, I hope you're well it was so great to see you yesterday. Look forward to hearing from you. Thank you...

Simon Kennell  14:41 
All right. And actually one of the and I know I've talked about this one before but what one of the sources I always give my students is the one that that you created about the 100 email phrases, I mean, use that for different introductions and endings. I mean, it's it's so bad, I think If I could type, I hope you're well in my sleep by now that I've just I always start off my emails with I hope you're well, you know. But yeah, definitely very helpful. So we have the house technique. What else? What else?

Paola Pascual  15:15 
Yeah, so that was the main the main concern that we've heard from students that how to structure an email correctly. And the other thing is, how do I find the balance between being professional, but also not super professional? Because you want to sound natural and personal, Right? That's, that's a bit of a major concern. And if you have any tips, or where do we start? Where do we even start?

Simon Kennell  15:40 
Yeah. So this is a this is an interesting one. Right is? I don't know. I mean, I I think that Dear Mr. Whoever, I think that this is a bit outdated at this point. You know, to be honest, I'll I mean, unless I'm writing the president, or or I'm, it's a very kind of crafted approach to something that I may use, dear if I'm not, if I'm not on the same level. And again, this can go into hierarchy. And this can go into culture, cross cultural, I think to be safe cross culturally, you can use Dear Mr. Dear Mrs. But again, you, you know, a lot of times you don't want to gender, the user, Mr. or Mrs. So you can say, Dear John, or and just use the first name. So I think, if I had to I just most often use Hi. Hi, Paula. Hi, John, you know, and I don't think that that's unprofessional. What do you think?

Paola Pascual  16:45 
Yeah, I'm so glad you brought this up. I think it's it's definitely going in that direction. So business communication is getting more and more informal. Right. Currently. However, I think that is more the case. Will it happens across the board. But it's more evident in the high tech industry. And in the United States. Again, the trend is happening everywhere, but it's just much more visible, and the states and the high tech industry. In Israel, they tend to be very informal as well. But I think if you go to Germany, and to most parts in Asia, you still see that deer in there. Yeah. So when in doubt, right.

Simon Kennell  17:36 
Yeah,

Paola Pascual  17:37 
exactly.

Simon Kennell  17:39 
And that's what I mean. Like, I think in most cultural situations, I would use dir just to be safe. But do you? Would you use the Mr. And Mrs. And then last name? Or what would you use?

Paola Pascual  17:53 
No, I'm with you. I usually use first names. That's yeah. Unless it's a very, very formal situation. But for a gentle business. First name is usually usually a good idea.

Simon Kennell  18:05 
But what about if were, were working cross culturally, and we're going to be contacting a businessman in Japan, that's at a higher level. I mean, I may then use the Dear Mr. Wright just in case just for that hierarchical purpose. And I don't know. I mean, this is a sign of respect, I think. And, you know, I wish we could give you the clear cut rules. But I would say if you're, if you're concerned about it, then go the safe route. If it is a hierarchical culture, right, but otherwise, in most situations, you I think you're fine with dear first name, or especially in the US. Hi, and then first name?

Paola Pascual  18:51 
Yes, I agree. But with all cross cultural situations, we always encourage people to do some research, and really see what's going on there. It's always safe to mirror the other person. So if they start using deer, then usually it's a good idea to use a deer and then we'll move on to high then you can move on to high usually it's a safe, it's safer to let them do that first.

Simon Kennell  19:15 
Yeah, I think this is the longest anybody has ever talked about you writing hire deer in the first line of an email, but that's what we do. We're communication. So here we go. Yeah, and, and then so after the hire deer, I use I hope you're well, I mean, that's kind of what I use. What what do you think? Do you think it's a bit?

Paola Pascual  19:37 
It's a little overused, it's okay. I also write that as well, just because it's the easiest. I hope you're well, I hope you had a nice weekend. I hope all is well. I hope things are going great. That's usually the easiest. So yeah, usually if you've had any sort of contact prior to the email, it's a great to reference it. It was so nice to see you yesterday or breaking up Earlier this morning, that's usually

Simon Kennell  20:04 
more than last week. Yeah, exactly. Right. Yeah. You can take that line as an opportunity to Yeah, like you said, Build report. Yeah, I like that. Sometimes, especially like, the US if you just jump directly into. Hi, Christina, could we have a more in depth discussion? You know what I mean? That can seem a bit too direct. Right. So there are,

Paola Pascual  20:29 
I'm so glad you bring that up as well, because we have, we work with a lot of people from East rail and emails, there tend to be super short. And by super short, I mean, a line. And oftentimes, they don't include any any decorations. Right? Any. I hope you're well, and looking forward to seeing you and all that. And many of my students have told me, yeah, but I never say that. So I'm not gonna say that. I always tell them, yeah, you don't really have to change who you are and how you communicate. But you have to understand that that is a really, really great way to set the tone and to get more people to buy into whatever you're trying to tell them.

Simon Kennell  21:08 
Right, that there are there are differences in how we perceive it, and what is culturally, you know, normal, even when it comes to email writing. I mean, it goes really there, you know, to that point. Yeah, yeah. Okay, so we have the introductions. You know, the titles. Now, one point we did want to bring up was something that we see a lot is, does long sentences, complex sentences mean more professional, big words? Does that mean more professional?

Paola Pascual  21:42 
100%? No, that's what many people think they think that using big words, and long sentences is going to make them look more professional. But the reality is that you are much more influential when you use simple, straightforward and short sentences.

Simon Kennell  22:00 
Right? And, and you're much more professional because you get the point across and it's much more effective, right? So it's, I mean, it's exactly that it's, it's really, we kind of get put into our own head of what a professional email should look like. And then, you know, whoever that poor person that you're sending this to, was looking through their emails on Monday morning, and they're reading this thing, and they're trying to like, you know, put three and five together and figure out what it was that you were writing. Really, they just want simple short sentences, right?

Paola Pascual  22:32 
Yeah, exactly. I don't know if if this has ever happened to you. But when I hear someone talk about complex things, and and I hear them explaining it in a very simple way that is so clear to everyone. That's when I'm thinking, wow, this person is really smart. And not the other way around when they start using all this jargon and difficult words.

Simon Kennell  22:55 
Was that okay, I'm totally miss gonna misquote. But I'm pretty sure that was Einstein that said, like, you only truly understand something if you can explain it to a nine year old, and they can understand, you know what I mean? Like, that's when you know, okay, that you understand it, and maybe it it really sends a signal that you take that little extra time to think it through to make it a bit more simple and straightforward. That's it. Great, great, great. Okay.

Paola Pascual  23:24 
Yeah, we have the greeting, we talked about Hi. So usually say for the high tech in the US? If you're not sure, then dear, then it's much better to use simple short sentences, it makes you look more professional. And also, it's easier to bond with people when you use plain words. We're getting to the end of the email. What about the closing? Question? What's the good practice?

Simon Kennell  23:51 
So I think when when closing for me, as always, action items, like what's the next thing? I don't I don't want to leave an email ambiguous. And by that I don't I don't want to leave an email, kind of like where the person needs to be guessing what's the next move? Right? It needs to be I think, something very clear. Like, can we set a meeting for next week? And then give your Calendly link or some dates and times? Or, please let me know if this works for you? Or can you provide some feedback? Right, so it's very clear, what is the action item, right? Or even on the other side, I will follow up with you after our meeting next week, or I will do XY and Z. So it needs to be an action item. Because ambiguity. I think when it comes to emails means it's a it's a lot of missed time, right?

Paola Pascual  24:47 
Yes. So that's part of that's part of the wolves. And I definitely think that we should start with the wolves and finish with the wolves like why, what should happen next, like what's this all about? So I'm 100% with you And then Okay, so we have the next steps write that what's going to happen and what should happen? And that's it, do we do we just say bye? And?

Simon Kennell  25:11 
Yeah, so there's some different ways with that, right? How do we do that? If, like using thanks. If you're asking for something? I mean, how do we, if we're just assuming they're going to do something? I usually end all of my emails with best. And then Simon, you know? Or yeah, you know, thanks for your help, or what have you. But I'm not if I'm asking for something in an email, I'm not going to say thanks for your help. Because in a way, it just assumes that they are going to do the thing that I'm asking if that makes sense.

Paola Pascual  25:47 
It doesn't make a lot of sense, I think with it, it's, it's an easy topic and a very difficult topic. At the same time, when we talk about signatures or like sign offs. And depending on who you ask, you're gonna get a different answer, I would say Warm regards, is usually safe, many people are going to take it the wrong way. And then being friendly is usually a very good idea. However, if the tone of the email was more negative, and positive, then you have to be careful with the sign up, because it can really look very sarcastic and a little bit passive aggressive. Here's, for example, cheers is a very informal way of signing off. And you'll see that a lot in the US in the UK and in Australia, delivered less common elsewhere, but you can see it in informal settings. Now, if you are in the US, and you've had a few emails back and forth, and you were giving negative feedback in a very professional way, you know, you're saying, Oh, next time you do this, can you please help me do it this other way? And then cheers. That can be a little bit grating. And from context.

Simon Kennell  27:03 
Yeah, I think it is, again, you're trying to kind of guess how the person is going to feel reading the email? Yeah, that's a tough one. I don't know. I I usually try to play it pretty safe. Like, yeah, like, what is the tone of the email? If, you know, it's like, if I send an email where I really gave some bad news, I wouldn't at the end of the email, say, you know, have a great weekend exclamation point. And you want to kind of keep it in line. Right. And Warm regards, or regards is a is a safe, you know, or best is a safe kind of alternative, I think to all of them.

Paola Pascual  27:48 
Yeah, I agree. I agree. All right.

Simon Kennell  27:51 
So it's a lot we covered, right? So what did we go through? I mean, we went through the house technique, right, which is what exactly,

Paola Pascual  27:59 
we have the walls, the furniture and the decoration. And that's the order in which we should write it. So we start with the wall. So why are you writing and what should happen next? Once you have that, think about the furniture that your house needs. And that is the essential information that the reader needs. And that could be the points that you want to cover for a meeting or instructions for the meeting point or for the project or assigning tasks. And then you can add all the decorations with the decorations and the nicer bits. Especially if you're not. If you're not so confident with emails, leave the nice parts for the end. Yeah, write the important message first. So yeah, that's a bit that the House technique.

Simon Kennell  28:44 
Yeah. And with those sentences, we want to remember that big words, long sentences doesn't equal professional of the year, right? It just, it makes it more difficult to get to the point of what you're trying to say. Right? So really try to make it concise. That's the key word. There's concise and clear. Yeah, and then as well, keeping it natural, but professional, there are the differences there. Right. dere is a safe one across cultures. You know, hi in the US and the first name, that's fine. And then as well with our with our endings, how we're ending it with action items as part of the walls, like you said, but then also using kind of safe, general Warm regards. All the best, you know, that can that can translate across. There's so many, I think resources here and again, it's part of I think building the habit of it starting with the the what and the why and then kind of going up from there. But again, if you're one of those people where we hear this all the time, you start an email and then it's 25 minutes later and you're like oh my God, what did I Just spend all this time doing this is a good way to kind of get into that. And Paula Yeah, I love the house technique. That's I think that's so great. We have some resources around this that people can use, right?

Paola Pascual  30:13 
Yes, we have a lot. We have a combination of 150 Ema phrases that that I personally use all the time when I get caught up in like, I don't want to use I hope you're well anymore. What else can we use? So we'll we'll drop that in the in the description. We have this house technique explained with a lot of examples. And we definitely have a lot more content that will we cover today. I just think this is such a good introduction to show people how they can write faster emails in a more efficient and effective way. But yeah, I'm so excited to talk about in future episodes about the use of emojis and how to actually write sentences that are more clear or look like, you know, there's so many things that I would love to talk about by Why don't you think about leaving that for a different

Simon Kennell  31:01 
episode? Yeah, I think again, that's a bit more of the of the nice furniture and the dressing and everything like that, which we will get into. But we have so many people ask us about emails. And as part of our new upcoming self paced learning course, email writing is going to be number one. And that's just, I think, hopefully going to save the world hours and hours of stress of you know, trying to craft the perfect email. So yeah, really looking forward to it. Paula, anything else coming up that we should know about?

Paola Pascual  31:36 
Yeah, so we're right in the middle of our HR Culture Month, and we'll also drop the link in the description, but that's for mostly for HR professionals, for l&d professionals, and in general, for a lot of managers that really want to develop some of their leadership skills, and also how to find themselves in this management mess that sometimes can become. So yeah, again, we'll drop the link in the description. But if not, you can type telera HR culture month,

Simon Kennell  32:11 
I'm sure. Awesome. Awesome. Well, great. Well, as always, to all of our awesome listeners out there, and there's so many over 160 countries, I mean, you guys, the telera The telera team just all over the place. I mean, it's just it's it's so great to, to see and to get your feedback. Remember to to write into us. If you have any ideas for things that you want to hear about, you know, we're here to help you to provide some value for you and making things better. So just send us any feedback you have. That is it for today. As always, keep learning.

Paola Pascual  32:50 
And that's all we have for you today. We hope you enjoyed it and remember to subscribe to Talaera Talks. We'll be back soon with more

Simon Kennell  32:58 
And visit our website at talaera.com for more valuable content on business English. You can also request a free consultation on the best ways for you and your team to improve your communication skills. So have a great day and keep learning!