Eight tips to help add a dose of empathy to your emails

Laptop - Email

Crafting the perfect email can be a challenge, but with these top tips it should be a lot easier

Email writing can be a complex business. Unlike traditional face-to-face or phone-based conversations, virtual exchanges are a breeding ground for potential miscommunication.

Little things that might otherwise go unnoticed are scrutinised and often misinterpreted by the recipient.

There are several software products being developed specifically to root out negative tones and translate your communication style so it fits more closely to the recipient. However, before we hand ourselves over entirely to the machines here are some handy tips for a more empathetic email:

Include a greeting

Whether intentional or not, a greeting-less email has immediate negative connotations and will likely make anxious reading for its unwilling recipient. A simple ‘hi’ is a sign of empathy and respect.

Picture your recipient

Remember you’re writing to a person not a machine. Before hitting ‘send’ read through your email in detail and imagine what your own reaction would be to receiving it.

Use positive phrasing to present bad news

A negative or accusatory tone is difficult to receive. So, consider your phrasing carefully: for example, use “situation” instead of “problem”; “we would prefer” instead of “you must”.  

Use emojis wisely

Emojis (or ‘smilies’, as they’re sometimes known) are being used increasingly in business circles as a quick, easy way to soften the tone of words and take the heat out of a potential confrontation. However, they can also be perceived as a weakness. So consider the situation and the recipient carefully before using them.

And the things you need to avoid…

Misuse the subject line

Cramming the entire content of your email into the subject line can come across as overly direct or even aggressive. The same goes for negative words in the subject line – avoid if possible.

Start with a negative

Rightly or wrongly, an email that launches straight into criticism or bad news will naturally cause discomfort to the reader. Providing some context will help to soften the tone and hopefully prevent an overly hostile response.

Point the finger

Use the passive voice when referring to a mistake: “the newsletter wasn’t sent out this week” rather than “you didn’t send out the newsletter this week”.


The adjectives you use in writing are likely to have a far greater impact than they will in verbal communication. Words like ‘really’ and ‘extremely’ can be especially forceful when used in a negative context; exchanging these for ‘quite’ or ‘a little’ can make a big difference.

Of course, none of this is a scientific process, and that’s probably a good thing. Whichever walk of life you find yourself in, at the end of the day people are still people. As busy as we all are, it’s worth taking that extra minute to check your words and to consider how they’ll be received.