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
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.
1. Let me guess what you might be thinking.
2. As odd (unusual) as it may seem...
3. I am not at all surprised.
4. There's a story that goes with this, and I will get to
this in the next paragraph.
5. Let me see if I can make this a little easier.
6. Its hard to believe, but...
7. 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
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 in box, file folder, or cabinet or worse
dismissed due to lack of connection, in order to continue
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,
(c) Copyright 2005, Catherine Franz. All rights reserved.
Catherine Franz, a eight-year Certified Professional Coach,
Graduate of Coach University, Mastery University, editor of
three ezines, columnist, author of thousands of articles