Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

How Email Can Help You Have An Instant Impact @ Work

Email is your friend!The most frequent reaction to the topic of emails at work are groans and moans about how excessive and unnecessary many email messages are.  It is not my purpose to convince you otherwise if you have very negative feelings about emails at work. However, I will remind you that in days of old (before 1980 or so) we received dozens of interdepartmental envelopes and memos several times a day, and messages to a large group either had to be posted on bulletin boards or distributed by hand. If we wanted to forward mail to someone, we either had to copy (or mimeograph) it or send our copies. Or, we made phone calls and kept little phone message slips all over our desks.

Email has tremendous value for getting information to people quickly and in a way that can be documented. Messages can be copied, forwarded and shared easily. Those characteristics can create problems as well–as most of you can attest, if you have had an email come back to bite you! However, there is one tremendously beneficial aspect to email that we tend to overlook:

Email can help you have a positive Instant Impact when you likely would not communicate otherwise. 

Picture this: You are helped on a project by a coworker, supervisor, manager or someone you supervise. You briefly think to yourself how lucky you are to work in an office where people get along and help each other out. You especially appreciate Steve because he is always fun to be around and overall makes work better. You know it might be a good idea to let Steve know how you feel about working with him, but you also know you would feel awkward–or even ridiculous–saying it. At best you might say a quick thanks. Instead, you send a quick email:

Steve, I got the project done on time, thanks to you. I really appreciate the fact that you are always ready to help. If I can ever return the favor, let me know. Paul

 You could write more than that, but a few sentences can get your point across–and it is something you might never say otherwise.

What about this scenario: You are at the copying machine and Greg rushes away with copies he was making, just as you realize there is no paper left in the tray. You say something curt and unpleasant to Greg about it and he either makes an excuse or says he is sorry. Even though you are irritated, you realize the paper issue isn’t as important as a working relationship–and you realize Greg was under a lot of pressure to get the copies to someone who was waiting for them. You also know you are probably not going to track Greg down and tell him you are sorry you used such a snippy tone. Instead, you send an email:

Greg, I realized the minute I said it, that I used a snippy tone with you about the copying paper. I’m really sorry I did that and wanted to put it in writing. I’ll tell you in person next time I see you. Jan

You could add other thoughts, but those three sentences are enough to convey your thoughts without being excessive. (Greg will probably write back and tell you not to worry about it–but, you know your point was made.)

Third scenario: You have asked to leave work early for a closing on your home loan. Maria, your manager, says that is fine and chats with you about buying a new home. Maria and you have not always gotten along very well, and in fact she can be difficult to deal with.  But, what the heck, this was nice of her. The way the office works, she would not be likely to say no, but she could have asked you why you did not try to schedule it better, or she could have said something unencouraging. Given your history with Maria and how you feel about her generally, you certainly do not intend to turn around and go back to tell her how much you appreciated her approval. Instead, you send an email:

Maria, I have everything done for the day and am leaving in about ten minutes. Thanks again for letting me leave early. I really appreciate it. I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Ben

Those three scenarios are examples of what you can do with an email that you would likely never do otherwise: Communicate with people you work with about things you might feel uncomfortable expressing verbally.

I often teach about Instant Impact Communications: Brief, verbal, non-verbal or written communications that send positive messages. Every piece of literature on workplace communications–and on interpersonal effectiveness in general–emphasizes the importance of expressing appreciation, apologizing when it is appropriate, or acknowledging someone’s behavior or performance. Instant Impact Communcations are simple and effective ways to do that, and email is one of the best ways to have Instant Impact. There are only a few caveats about it:

  • Email cannot take the place of face-to-face interactions, and there are times when more than a brief note is needed. However, a brief note can supplement direct communications.
  • Some issues are too serious to leave to email. However, there are many small opportunities to communicate positively and email is more likely to be used than direct conversations.
  • It would be excessive and could be viewed as insincere if you wrote a note for every small thing that happens at work. However, most of us do not have to worry about being too appreciative of others! Further, what we might consider a minor matter often is not considered minor by the person doing it. It is almost impossible to thank someone too much for their good work or their assistance.

Look for opportunities to use brief emails to say thank you, to explain your actions or even to apologize. Whether you send quick messages to coworkers, those who supervise you or those you supervise, use email as a powerful Instant Impact tool. You will see instant results–from the person with whom you are communicating, as well as in the way you will feel about doing the right thing when you might not have done it otherwise. 

April 10th, 2008 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 4 comments


  1. I don’t want to be excessive but this is another great article. You never seem to run out of good ideas and techniques that improve one’s position. I have had a tendency to be excessive and effusive with emails – bad, bad, bad! A friend here in KS, serves as a role model of email brevity. I call it “The Calvin Coolidge Format.” If it can’t be said in five words or less, he doesn’t think it’s worth sending – true story.

    As you suggested, I did re-read your article of 4/4 and left another comment. Have you looked at my latest home page post? I think it is a beautiful scene and I posted your bio verbatim.

    Thank you for asking for my URL. http://bulldogs-are-survivors.blogspot.com.
    – Bob

    Comment by Robert N. Adams | April 11, 2008

  2. Thanks for your comment Bob. I checked out your blog and see that it’s coming along well!

    I don’t agree with your friend from KC however! An email is only another form of mail. Some business mail needs to be longer to ensure complete information. Some personal messages to family and friends need to be longer, to give the recipient something to read other than, “Hi. I’m fine. How are you?” My experience with people who respond to email with very, very short messages is that they don’t want to encourage any email back!

    My focus on this article is that we can have a very positive impact in someone’s life, especially at work, through email–when we might not feel comfortable expressing the same thoughts verbally. The comment below, by lmv, points that out as well.

    Thus, since most of your emails are personal ones to friends, you can write all you want. Your Blessays are another matter…….. 🙂

    Comment by Tina | April 12, 2008

  3. As support for your thoughts, I looked over my email for the last week, which contained several of the short, thank you type emails you described. The people who received them wrote back a short note or saw me later and obviously liked my messages to them.

    When I re-read them, I tried to hear myself saying the same things and knew I couldn’t have done it with a straight face because they were a lot more serious sounding than I usually come across. But it was easy to write them. I don’t know why that is, but it seems you’re right.

    Comment by lmv | April 12, 2008

  4. Hi lmv! I’m going to do a post one day about how we also can write unpleasant things we wouldn’t have guts enough to say to someone’s face! That is how email wars get started!

    Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to test the concept! T.

    Comment by Tina | April 12, 2008

Leave a comment