Email messages reveal more about you than you think

Do you take care over your email style?
Do you take care over your email style?

The sports retailer, JJB Sports is reportedly in talks with rival JD Sports this morning in a bid to create a 750 store “super chain” of sports shops. JJB has been in some trouble for a while, with shop closures and the need to raise extra capital. But can you imagine what the initial email was like which set off this take-over gambit? Would it have been something like: “Hi Mike, Hope all is well – fancy lunch? I’ve got an idea we need to talk about. How about we take you over? That would save you having to go cap in hand to your shareholders again.”

Or would it have been: “Dear Mr McTighe, Further to your recent need to raise additional capital and to satisfy your bankers it has come to our attention that you may need further funding. We have a proposal which could provide that funding for you and we would like to set up a meeting at a mutually convenient time to discuss this matter further with you.”

Both say the same thing – but boy oh boy do they say it in different ways.

There is much more to email messages than the message itself. The way you phrase it, the way you punctuate it and the “furniture” you use – such as a signature or logos of social networking sites – all “say something” about you. Indeed, new research from Knox College, Illinois, shows that readers of email messages infer emotions and personality traits from emails. In other words, the recipients of your emails are making their mind up about what kind of person you are – often from just a sentence or two.

For example, the study found that if you write in the third person the recipient of the email thinks you are angry. Similarly, if you use lots of expressive punctuation, such as exclamation marks, your readers make the assumption you are female.

Frequently, people write emails without a lot of thought – a quick “Yes OK”, without any salutation, for instance.  But that conveys an additional message of lack of care or of little attention.

Of course, the sender may think the receiver does not want to have to read too much and all they want is the quick, pithy message. However, this new research confirms that the sender of such messages is adding an additional “message” as well, potentially affecting the views of the recipient about the sender.

As the researchers pointed out, stylistic aspects of email messages are often overlooked by senders – yet they have a significant influence on the recipient. Perhaps it is high time we all took more care over the emails we send. And if the takeover of JJB works, perhaps it would be a lesson for all of us if we could look at that initial email…!


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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones


Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
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3 thoughts on “Email messages reveal more about you than you think

  1. Email styles can also vary significantly between different countries, which is why sometimes Dutch, German or Swiss emails can be viewed as blunt, rude and stroppy by English or French standards (none of the polite formulas such as 'Would you be so kind'). It's always a good idea to have some knowledge of the recipient and their own preferred style.

  2. So we judge people from emails in the same way we would if we met them face to face? Scruffy shoes, limp handshake, sharp suit all say something eh?

    And then we get to know people and realise that first impressions are important but not everything.

    If I get an email without salutations I just think its the style of someone who likes to get straight to the point, not a sign of rudeness.

    Overly formal could indicate lack of confidence rather than politeness.

    In other words, an email is no more an indication of how to read someone than the much maligned 'body language'.

    When I reply to an email I match the style of the sender so that probably makes me duplicitous because I'm not using my own preferred style.

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