I’ve known people to be enraged on reading an e-mail from a much-loved colleague because their normal smiley manner of delivering a terse comment is missing from the written word.
The opposite can, of course, also be true. Do you find yourself automatically apologising for having a difference in opinion or daring to ask a question?
Do you find yourself using the words "just", "sorry" and "I think" in e-mails? You could be undermining yourself and your message. Well, now, there’s a digital tool for that.
Cyrus Innovation has built a plug-in for Gmail that highlights "sorrys", "I thinks" and "I’m not an expert but" on draft e-mails. Its chief executive, Tami Reiss, was prompted by debate about women and their tone of voice in the workplace. She says: "We had all inadvertently fallen prey to a cultural communication pattern that undermined our ideas. As entrepreneurial women, we run businesses and lead teams – why aren’t we writing with the confidence of their positions?"
This is far from exclusively a gender issue, however. In fact, self-deprecation and apologetic tones may be an issue of national stereotypes – a dim echo of Bertie Wooster saying "Sorry, old chap" without meaning to be apologetic at all. Clearly, flexibility and being conscious of how you might come across in e-mail are crucial.
In the thousands of e-mails that you receive, you can be enraged, entertained or appalled in all kinds of ways. Love emoticons or think they belong to teenagers? Do you feel "How are you" at the beginning of an e-mail is wasting time? Can’t stand people who give you one-word answers without acknowledging you as a person?
The Crystal e-mail assistant analyses people’s personalities and gives you advice on you how to write them a convincing e-mail, such as "appeal to her feelings", "send lots of information" or "no more than three sentences required".
People form a view about you from your e-mail. So do businesses and marketers, of course. Yahoo’s Jeff Bonforte believes that e-mail will get more "intimate" and connect us even more emotionally. And it will be able to reveal more and more about us. The data that can be understood from the billions of e-mails flowing through the system will be one of the best sources of information that can help businesses with more precise targeting, appropriate messaging and, indeed, forecasting.
More than 100 billion e-mails are sent every day. Insight from this vast swathe of information might be a controversial issue (even though data is anonymous) but will also be fascinating. Apparently, for instance, you can better predict the weather in New York by what e-mails say about needing an umbrella that day than the real weather forecasts. Attitudes to risk, fun, love and shopping will all be evident. Understanding and insight from millions of e-mails. All the better for insurers, retailers, marketers, creative briefs, programmatic and return on investment.
Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom