Tag Archives: email

Should Women Use Smiley Faces in Business Communications?

Recently I was contacted by a writer for the business magazine “The Virago.”  She was writing an article about women’s business communication and how so many women fear appearing “too aggressive” in their communication. Many women she talked to apparently felt like they had to add a bunch of smiley faces to their emails in order to avoid the aggressive stereotype and be listened to.

She wanted to talk to me about confident communication for women that will be listened to, and getting over the fear of being “too angry.”  Here are her questions, my original answers, and her final article posted online that also includes other expert opinions. Enjoy!

Q1: In your experience/opinion do both men and women use the smiley face emoji in business emails? Do both genders use them with the same frequency?
A: In my experience not many people use the smiley face emoji in business emails, but they are gaining acceptance. The fact that we have adopted the Japanese term ‘emoji’ and people understand what it means is a testament to that. They were frowned upon (no pun intended) up until very recently. I used to teach people not to use emoticons in business writing right up until just a few years ago. These days they are acceptable if they are familiar (like a smiley face) and add insight to the sentences. I would say women use them a little more frequently than men, but I personally use them often and find them a valuable communication tool.

Q2: Is use of the smiley face emoji effective in emails or does it damage the reputation of the user?

A: It’s often hard for people to understand the exact intended meaning of just written or typed words, and that is why we have more miscommunication with writing compared to phone calls or face-to-face discussions. An emoji can be very useful to add clarity to a comment, so the reader understands that something was a joke or a playful sentence and not a sarcastic one or aggressive order. Here’s an illustration:

“Get back to work!”

“Get back to work!” 🙂

The first phrase may have been sent as a playful jab or joke, but how could we know for sure? It may accidentally hurt feelings or cause tension. In the second example, it’s clear we are teasing.

Regarding our reputation – it can be damaged if people in business think we are not serious of course. We don’t want to overuse the emoji or use obscure ones, and we do want to consider the familiarity of the reader as well. People that know us can ‘hear’ our voice when they read our emails, and in this case the emoji adds tone and should not take away from our reputation. Like everything in life, moderation is the key.

Another example: recently I wanted to give my receptionist a little “trouble” for leaving a small meeting room messy that I needed to use with a client. I walked into the room and saw the mess, took a photo of it, and got down to coaching. I emailed the photo to my receptionist and typed some statement to do with the ‘surprise’ and instructions to please check more thoroughly next time, but ended it with a smiley face emoji. J She wrote back an apology and a joke of some kind with a smiley face too. When I saw her in person next time there was zero tension. The smiley faces allowed each of us to know that the point was taken but there were no bruised feelings over it. Message received, emotions saved!

Q3: Does the gender of the user have any bearing on how an email’s reader reacts to smiley emoji use (or not using smileys)?

A: An emoji is a softener – it softens or lightens the tone of the phrase or sentence. Some people may associate that as more feminine or, like me, they may associate that with empathy and taking steps to have their message understood clearly, and without misunderstanding.

Q4: What is a clear and confident way for a woman to give those she supervises instructions or discuss a difficult subject with them over email without using the smiley face emoji? Are there particular words or phrases that are effective?

A: In general we should avoid discussing difficult subjects over email! That’s the best piece of advice I can give. It’s too easy to be misunderstood when emotions are high. It’s best to use email to arrange a face-to-face or phone meeting to discuss the situation. Other than that, it’s important for people to take emotions out of business reports, feedback or evaluations. Stick to the facts and avoid judgmental words like: always, never, good, bad, smart, lazy etc. As a manager you should focus your communications on dealing with behaviour, not the personality. Don’t “accidentally on purpose” make it personal when it doesn’t have to be.

Ric Phillips, Communication Coach


@CommCoach (Twitter)
Final Virago Article:  http://thevirago.ca/2017/02/24/emoticon-sending-wrong-message/

Why the Change in Tone from Speaking to Writing?

Think before you type...

Think before you type…

Do you ever notice how many people in positions of leadership in the business world can be friendly and casual in person, yet when they email or post a memo to staff they adopt a very formal, cold tone? Isn’t that a bit odd and counter-productive to all the rapport building previously done to win your confidence and loyalty?

For staff it can be akin to dealing with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One minute you feel comfortable chatting with your boss or manager, and then next, you feel you are being scolded or talked down to through his/her writing. Here are the common traits of this problem:

1 – the manager adopts on reflex a “boss’s tone” without realizing it, often because it’s the way it’s been done at the workplace before (particular office culture)

2 – the manager feels a serious, formal tone sounds ‘professional’

3 – the manager hopes the formal, professional tone encourages staff to take him/her (more) seriously

4 – the memo has long business English words and phrases that sound ‘intelligent’

5 – the memo is filled with instructions, demands and orders, not inquiries, questions or polls

6 – using CAPS unnecessarily

It doesn’t have to be that way. I encourage members of management and team leaders to consider having a consistent message with their staff, customers, tenants, vendors etc. Of course writing still must avoid street slang, but it can certainly get its message across while being positive in tone and engaging, and still maintain professionalism. The key communication tip I’m suggesting is to use a consistent, conversational tone that still deals with the key issue or topic, but does not create distance.

Here are some quick examples of suggested changes:

To all Staff:

Please be advised that you will NO LONGER be able to use the common area for eating lunch. Please eat your food in the designated lunchrooms only.


Change to…

Hi everyone,

Just a quick note to ask you to please eat your food in the lunchrooms only, and not in the common area. We want to keep that food-free as much as possible.


Mr. Smith / Team ABC Co.


Dear Valued Customer;

Our records indicate that you have not paid your last invoice. Please remit payment within the next 5 days to avoid late fees and potential legal action, as per the customer agreement.


Mrs. Doe, ABC Bank Manager

Change to…

Dear Mrs. Smith,

We are reaching out to you as we have not received payment from the last issued invoice. If you have paid it already, please accept our thanks. If you have forgotten about it, please send us the payment as soon as you can. If there is a concern with your invoice please call us immediately so we can work with you to sort it out. We would like to help you avoid any late fees associated with this payment.

Best regards,

Mrs. Doe, ABC Bank Manager


NO food or drink beyond this point!

Change to…

Please do not bring food or drink beyond this point. Thank you!

It’s not the words that I/you choose as much as it’s the emotional vibe or feeling associated with the note. We can absolutely be a respected manager or boss and still use an approachable, casual and positive tone in our emails and memos. We want to be consistent in person and in writing, and we want to continue to build rapport with our staff and customers. Give it a try – you will be happy you did.  In all honesty, wouldn’t you rather work for or with a Dr. Jekyll instead of a Mr. Hyde?

3 Questions with Communication Expert Ric Phillips | The Jenn Report

Source: 3 Questions with Communication Expert Ric Phillips | The Jenn Report 

Be clear, confident and successful! Don’t let a lack of high-level communication skills hold you back.

Advises Ric Phillips, a Communication Coach since 2006. His clients include professionals and politicians.

A few years ago, I met Ric Phillips at a local networking group and found him friendly and easy to talk to.

Recently, I asked him 3 Business Communication 101 questions. Here’s what he had to say:

1) In this digital age, what are the essential business communication skills?

Ric Phillips:  There are several essential communication skills needed for a successful business relationship, but specifically considering the digital age, I would say:

1 – The ability to build rapport in person and over the internet and phone. Business requires not just human interaction, but humans to like each other. We are not motivated to work with someone or buy something from someone whom we dislike.

2 – Sense the tone. Especially considering texts, emails and VOIP calls, we need to be able to understand not only what is truly being said and meant, but how to ensure our communications going out have a minimal chance of being misinterpreted as snobby, sarcastic or demanding, to name a few potential threats.

3 – Public speaking and presenting… (Please continue reading by clicking the link above (Source link below photo) or https://thejennreport.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/3-questions-with-communication-expert-ric-phillips/ to get to Jenn’s full blog post and finish the article.  Feel free to comment and share!  🙂

Dealing with “Fishy” Customer Service

gone-fishingMy friend recently received some strange customer service while dealing with a mid-sized company located in the USA.  He had purchased some sport fishing products about a year ago and, to his surprise, when he reached for the pole a couple of weeks ago, it broke in two.  He is very familiar with and loyal to this particular brand, and was shocked with the pole snap because it has a good name in the market.  Therefore he was convinced this breakage was not normal and must be faulty, and so took pictures to send to the company via email.  He also included a photo of the original receipt.

He emailed the company with the 3 pictures, and their response was so short and to the point it gave him the feeling of rudeness.  It read basically “Please send us the pictures in a standard format, like JPEG.”  Now I’m a big fan of making emails short and to the point, but that is ridiculous.  Where’s the sugar?  Where’s the concern, empathy or reassurance that they will look into this matter?

This is the point when my friend contacted me as apparently I’m a bit more tech-savvy than he, and so I helped covert the 3 original photos to .jpg and we emailed the company again, referencing the new file number they had also provided him.

He got an email the next day basically saying the same thing – that they could not see the pictures and to please send them in standard format.  I double-checked our email and assured him that we did indeed send the photos as jpeg, but also suggested we send a new, fresh email with the jpegs attached, so that they do not get them confused with the old pictures that are sure to be on the thread.  That is what I assume might have happened.

The response to that email was basically “Send us a picture showing the date of purchase.”  What?  We wondered who was on the other end of this computer.
Regardless we took a new picture of the receipt that showed the date of purchase and jpeg’d it and emailed it to them with the reference file number.  Their response the next day was “Please pay a processing fee of $9.95.”  I kid you not.

This morning my friend had reached his limit in patience and wrote an email complaining about the time wasted in these emails, noting his confusion over the mysterious processing fee, and swearing that he would never use nor recommend their products again.  He luckily called me before he pressed SEND.

He read it to me over the phone and asked for feedback.  I asked him “What is your goal?”  He replied to tell them how he feels.  I suggested that the chance of resolving the original issue is very low if you share your feelings and then sever ties.  I advised him to use the 1-800 number and call the company and speak to someone about this issue instead of firing off the ‘burning-bridges’ letter.  I told him we both understand that the person on the other end of the computer is customer-service handicapped, so more emails, including the letter, will get no response or at best a one-liner.  I told him to keep calm and call them, and just ‘follow up’ on the previous emails, and ‘inquire’ about the processing fee.  He agreed.
He called me back swiftly and told me that the company will be sending him a new fishing pole – but they just require a small processing fee.  My friend should receive the new product in a week. 🙂

By keeping his cool and not resorting to threats and ultimatums, and by not allowing the truly terrible customer service emails to interfere with his right to seek answers and possibly get reparation for his broken pole, my friend was able to find the true meaning behind the cryptic and stunted emails.  By ‘upgrading’ the communication from computer to phone, he found out the company’s true intentions to replace his product, and will now get it in short order.

The main lessons here I think are:
1 – don’t lose your cool not matter how frustrating the communication is
2 – if you don’t understand emails, pick up the phone
3 – never close the door on a brand you actually like and want to keep using
4 – don’t assume you know what the other party is thinking.  Get a clear answer.
5 – Jpegs are a common format for sharing photos
6 – It’s okay to use friends who are tech-savvy and/or knowledgeable about professional communication strategies. ☺

Your Communication Coach,

Don’t Settle for Less Respect with an Accounting Firm

At this time of year many people are either doing their taxes themselves or having an accountant help them. I have a little story about trying to find an accountant.

I did an internet search for small-business oriented Toronto-based accountants, and came up with a few. After reviewing their websites I chose one to pursue: Ca4IT.com.

Even though I am not an IT professional, I am a contractor, and it was close enough for me and I assumed close enough for them.

I had a free consultation with a wonderful lady named Rachel. She was professional, knowledgeable and very helpful in helping me feel like my taxes would finally be organized in the best way possible. She even arranged for me to come in for a second free consultation early the next week, so that she could ensure my articles of incorporation and HST were in order. Not 1 but 2 free consultations – nice!

After that second meeting I REALLY felt good about my new accounting firm. I was hooked and happy to sign up. The meeting was left with Rachel informing me that she is not an accountant herself, so she would connect me to one at their firm. She would email me a couple documents, and after that I could proceed. I was a very happy potential customer.

THEN – nothing. No email. I waited a week, then emailed her to remind her. Nothing. I waited another week, then called her and left a message. Nothing. Now I was taking it personally. I hate being ignored. Don’t you?

On top of everything there was to be an accounting software workshop coming up soon that I was supposed to attend (sponsored through their firm) and I had yet to receive confirmation of registration for it.

Finally I emailed the Big Boss Andrew through LinkedIn and explained to him that I came to his firm based on his father’s reputation, and was very impressed with Rachel, until she dropped contact with me for no reason. I told him that his almost-new customer’s patience was wearing thin really fast, and asked that if he didn’t want me as a customer then to please recommend a new accounting firm for me.

I’m sure he didn’t like that but I was pissed.

Did he respond? Not to me directly (which I think he should have) but I think he passed on my displeasure to Rachel because the next business day, at 5:30pm, she emailed me finally. Sounds good right?

Wrong. She took no responsibility for dropping me and even lied by saying that my email was lost in her spam box (which made no sense since she had my business file with all the info plus my email from when I originally emailed into the firm, not to mention that she emailed me to 2 different email addresses at the same time, clearly proving that she had my email).

Then in a cold, ‘professional’ tone she proceeded to tell me to fill out a bunch of forms attached and have everything in by the next day, plus an advanced payment, and then I could attend the accounting workshop being held the next evening. Nice.

So what would you do?

I understood that Rachel is an excellent sales woman, and maybe she was too busy to follow up with me or maybe she passed on my file to others who didn’t follow up. She seemed stressed in the email. I don’t need stress. CRA gives me enough on it’s own.

I never filled out the forms, never sent a cheque and never heard from them again. I guess I was expendable, even though they would have had a client for life, not to mention a client who would have recommended them to others. Now they are stuck with an unhappy blogger!

I have since found a new accountant to help me out this year, and going forward. I am happy so far, but this story reminds me (and should remind you too) that there are plenty of accountants and accounting firms in Toronto and the G.T.A., and in whatever are you live in.

Don’t settle on being treated like a file or number. Insist on being treated with respect – as a person.

Good Hunting!

How to Write an Effective Email by Susan Adams

How to write an effective e-mail
by Susan Adams, Forbes.com
Monday, August 9, 2010
provided by forbes

Get to the point, keep it short, and assume it’s public, say the experts.

In July 2008, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford e-mailed his Latin lover, praising “the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night’s light.” That now-public note is just the latest example of how even the most politically savvy pro can be an idiot when it comes to electronic mail.

Cardinal rule numero uno: Assume that e-mail is public. Even if you’re sending it over a secure server or to an account you think you’ve set up in secret, if people want to read your notes and share them with the world, they will.

Despite e-mail’s growing ubiquity, few have mastered the art of writing an effective one. In an effort to compile some pointers on how to do so, we consulted three experts: Will Schwalbe, co-author with David Shipley of Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home; Mark Hurst, author of Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload; and Peter Post, one of the directors of the Emily Post Institute and author of five books on etiquette.

Evidence that the dos and don’ts of e-mail have yet to solidify: The experts disagree on several pertinent points. While Peter Post insists on polite salutations (“Dear Mr. or Ms.”) and courteous endings (“Sincerely”) and recommends always using an e-mail signature at the end of a business note, Hurst says none of that matters. “Is he set up to run a steam-powered computer and read through his monocle?” Hurst sniffs.

For his part, Post says emoticons have no place in business e-mail. On the contrary, say both Hurst and Schwalbe; because irony and humor are so frequently misconstrued in e-mail notes, the emoticon offers a quick, effective way to convey feelings. “Emoticons are necessary,” Hurst maintains, “because there is no subtlety in e-mail, and jokes do not transmit well.”

Quibbles aside, there are e-mail rules on which our experts agree. Among the most important: Get to the point immediately. Keep your notes as short as possible. Avoid extended blocks of text by breaking up your writing into short paragraphs or bullets. And keep in mind what we all already know: Everyone is busy and gets too much e-mail.

One more caveat: When you receive a rude or angry note, do not reply right away. Negative emotions can escalate all too quickly in e-mails. “Just delete it,” advises Hurst to those who receive a cranky missive.

Or here’s a novel idea: Pick up the phone.


Email Advice: 5 Quick Tips to Improve Communication

1 – Remember that people only have your words, phrases and punctuation to try to understand and ‘feel’ your meaning in text, so choose them carefully. Be concise and not too emotional. Stick to the point of the correspondence.

2 – Do not use CAPITALS as it looks like you are SHOUTING.

3 – Do not write emails that are too long, as email predominantly is used for quick communication, especially in North America.

4 – Use the Subject line wisely, so people can understand exactly what the email is regarding. In sales (and spam mail), asking an intriguing question in the subject line is a common technique to get people’s attention.

5 – When finished, review your email and ask yourself if the tone of your email sounds personal or professional, and does this match your intention, and the intended recipients’ expectations?

Is Spelling Really Important?

Yes and No. Proper spelling is important for written reports, essays and school assignments, as well as any and all business documents (including emails). BUT proper spelling is not important for understanding words and meaning in the sentence.

Most people can read the sentences below and still understand the correct meaning (i.e. words) without much effort. Try it. I hope you are a clever one too! 😉

“I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it whotuit a pboerlm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe. Azanmig eh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!”

P.S. – as an English teacher, I strive for and demand proper spelling!

English Acronyms and Short Forms for the Office

Here are a few acronyms that you most likely will come across as you work in a professional setting, like an office.  These will come in handy (be useful) as you read and write office memos, emails, texts and letters.

Re:  This means “Regarding”, as in “regarding (or in regards to) your question/memo/email etc.”

Appt:  This means “Appointment”.  Be careful not to use “Apt.” which actually is short for

ASAP:  “As Soon As Possible” – something needs to be done quickly!

ETA:   “Estimated Time of Arrival” – “What is the ETA on that package from Japan?”

Dept.:  “Department”.

H.R.:  Human Resources.  Can also end with “Manager”, “Management”, “Department”, etc.

CEO:  “Chief Executive Officer”

COO:  “Chief Operations Officer”

V.P.:  “Vice President”

VIP:  “Very Important Person”.  “We were given the VIP treatment by our suppliers today.”

RSVP:  French – Respondez sil-vous plait.  “respond if you please” is the literal translation, but in English we just say “please respond”.  This can be used in invitations, networking events, conferences, meetings etc.  “John if you want to come to the Christmas party with me you have to rsvp asap, so I know who is riding with me in my van.”

C.C.:  “Carbon Copy”, or identical copy.  Used in memos and emails.  This way you can send your email to many people at once.  Everyone can see the list of emails in the C.C. section.  We also use this in speaking at the office, for example “Mary can you request a Lunch N’ Learn on communication skills from H.R., and C.C. me on it (the email) please?

B.C.C.:  “Blind Carbon Copy” – same as above, but no one except you can see the email addresses in this section.

There are more but this list is a good start.  Enjoy!

Coach Ric