Does this make steam come out your ears?

So many times, communication between people can break down simply because of how they’re using emails.

Ignoring how we use virtual communication when we look at relating to others, is like trying to run a car with a flat tyre: it’ll go but not very efficiently.

These three tips will keep that car away from the relationship breakdown garage, helping smooth the communication.

1. Irritation One: the words ‘should’:

For example, ‘You should let me know when you have authorisation for this and then I will action the request’. Similarly, replacing that with ‘have to’, which is even stronger, may start to annoy your recipient.

It could be seen as: patronising.

The Recommendation: replace ‘should’ and ‘have to’ with ‘You’ll need to’ or I’d strongly recommend that…’   This is easier to hear and act upon. It means the same without sounding like a finger-wagging parent.


2. Irritation Two: presumptuous wording such as ‘As you know…’ then adding totally new information that is unknown to everyone, but should have been known.

It could be seen as: someone covering their back

Recommendation: writing, ‘As you may know…’ and sticking to possibilities unless you can be certain.


3. Irritation Three: cc’ing in the boss, because you can’t get what you want from a colleague.

It could be seen as: trouble-making

Recommendation: if the communication is breaking down, go and see someone to get their advice. Usually, two adults should – excuse me – need – to be able to work it out between each other by saying:

a) what needs to be done and, perhaps, why the current situation could be problemetic

b) who will do it

c) finish with ‘As soon as you have this, I’ll be happy to help you’.

If the tone is constructive and respectful, there is less chance of being cold shouldered off line or email mud-slinging.


To know how direct you can be in English, without being rude or weak, look here.


Got any email pains you want to get out there? Share and get them out your hair! See you in the comments below!


  • Michael Collins says:

    Thought-provoking tip as ever.
    I don’t use should in this way, however, how I ask someone to do something in an email varies.

    I might use “should” like this: “I would be very grateful if you should let me know when you have…”
    The level of bluntness in the request depends on the person, their culture and our existing relationship.
    “Please let me know..” for people who like the direct approach.
    And grades inbetween.

    I do use “As you know” but only when I know that they know, eg we discussed it on the phone five minutes ago. Sometimes my memory is better than theirs though, strangely.

    Irritation 3 is the worst by far. The extreme case is somebody writing to your boss, cc you with a report, saying something like “Michael will establish world peace by Friday” without having agreed it with me first (Perhaps I previously agreed to a much smaller related task . This is one of the worst possible stitch-ups that people do.

    BTW the link in the email “Get the other 2 tips here!” didn’t work for me..

    • Alison says:

      Hi Michael!

      Thanks so much for your comments. The link got fixed and I hope you didn’t have to faff around too long before the note came through. Well done for persevering!

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