7 High Impact Factors for Great Cross-Cultural Emails

Email is the most common form of communication in the business world today – not texting, video or even phone. Well written emails can get you answers and move people to act fast. Very fast. These are the emails that overcome barriers, create progress and bring success.

However, a 2013 Sendmail survey says 64% of working professionals suffer from tension, confusion, and other problems – all because of email.
The emails you send can either empower your team or destroy its ability to get work done.

Why are effective emails even more challenging with multiple cultures?

Diverse backgrounds can cause misunderstanding even when face-to-face. Email communication is even harder. You don’t have tone of voice, body language, gestures or facial expressions.

Understanding and being understood is a well known habit of highly effective people.

Cultural differences are obvious when you are visiting another country. When you work with email in your own office, it’s easy to forget these differences.

Not a few business leaders say you should know when to avoid email and pick up the phone.

How do you write really effective emails?

1. First Decide Your Purpose And Expected Outcome

Misunderstandings are easy when expectations are unclear – yours or theirs.

Most people know roughly what they want, but don’t bother to think it through clearly. Invest this extra time. It’s crucial in a multi-cultural workforce.

Which of 4 types of emails are you writing?

A. Giving information or commendation – you expect no reply
B. Asking a question – you expect an answer
C. Maintaining dialog – you expect a future benefit
D. Moving to action – you expect the reader to do something

No matter which type, you need a call to action. Sadly, many emails lack this one powerful ingredient.

What should the reader do when they get your email? Write this first. A brief, clear statement of purpose at the beginning saves much trouble.

Send emails when you don’t need something. The best time to build relationships is before you need something. Try sending five notes to team members each week, simply to commend them or keep communication going. You just might be amazed at the results!

2. Create A Subject Line That Goes To Work For You

Use email subject lines just like news headlines. Which of these often-used subject lines tells you the message is important?


Extra points for you if you said, “None of them.”

If you are creating a time sensitive message, say so. You could use a subject line such as “Meeting on Wed, July 23.”

Just as you search for good people, search for good subject lines. Scan your inbox and quickly choose the top five. Pick out the words that make you feel great. Ask yourself: Why would these words get you to act?

Find a way to do something similar for your team.

3. Use A Tone That Dignifies Your Recipient – No Matter What

Andrew Carnegie, in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, points out how futile criticism really is. It puts people on the defensive. It’s never productive.

To make his point, Carnegie cites Lincoln’s dignified and motivating letter to the civil war general that disappointed Abe the most.

Consider another example. See the difference between the following two emails?

Jill, I need your report by 4pm this afternoon or I’ll miss my deadline. – Jack

Hi Jill,
Thanks for all your hard work on the report. Could you please get your version over to me by 4 p.m., so I don’t miss my deadline?
Thanks so much!

You wouldn’t walk into a friend’s house snapping your fingers and demanding dinner. Don’t do the same with your emails.

Think about how your emails “feel” emotionally. If your reader might misunderstand or be hurt, work on being clearer and nicer. If the second email above is not the way you talk, what is this costing you and your business?

4. Show Genuine Personal Interest

The world is starving from lack of personal interest. Personal interest is not being nosy. Every culture has different limits to what is acceptable to ask.

However, showing even a little personal interest – with any culture – can have a powerful effect.

Make the effort to write a greeting in the other person’s main language. Use closings such as “Kind Regards” or “Best Regards” instead of just saying “Thanks.” Be aware of other people’s holidays and key religious events.

Don’t fall into an often-disrespected American stereotype: expecting others to adapt to you. Your efforts to adapt to the style of others will most certainly pay off.

Andy Molinsky, Associate Professor at the Brandeis International Business School, describes this effort as developing “swift trust.”

You will inevitably make mistakes with other cultures. The more genuine you are and the more often you work at showing personal interest, the more your mistakes will be overlooked. This is the fast track to building personal power with your team.

5. Make Your Emails The Right Length

Cut excess words.

Aim for short, polite and effective emails.

After your brief purpose statement, explain the necessary details.

Imagine you are writing a text on one of those horrible phones that don’t have a good keyboard. What would you say that would still convey your point? If you deleted your first and last paragraphs, what sticky statement would be missing? Could you distill that idea into one sentence?

However, you should give your reader enough context, especially if you are asking a question. Provide relevant computer error messages. Show part or all of previous conversations that apply.

If your email must be longer than a sentence or two, wrap up your email by briefly restating your call to action.

6. Don’t Be Hasty

Never be hasty to click the send button. Slow is the new fast with cross-cultural communication.

Twenty years ago, business leaders often found more value in face-to-face meetings than phone calls. In today’s fast paced world, people debate whether to email or make a phone call.

Few would argue the value of knowing when to pick up the phone rather than email.

7. Find A Mentor

Successful people know from experience. Trustworthy and effective guides to multi-cultural business situations are worth their weight in gold. Learn valuable approaches ahead of time. Get coaching for your specific circumstances. Avoid costly mistakes.

Sana Reynolds offers cross-cultural communication courses and workshops for those wishing to succeed in business conversations.