Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What do you look like in your emails?

Alfredo Behrens, Professor of Cross-Cultural Management

FIA, International MBA, São Paulo, alfredob@fia.com.br

Email communication is culturally rooted in the Northern hemisphere and, in being emotionally lean, it is not the most Latin-friendly media, yet, use it we must. As a student enrolled at FIA’s International MBA or EMBA you are likely to work at organizations that span the globe. It may help you to be aware of how you may be seen elsewhere when an email of yours arrives. How you are seen may reflect on your chances of promotion, which entails in meeting established standards of leadership skills through email communication. Developing your skills at inspiring followers is particularly relevant at your fuzzy stage of organizational development, where emerging leaders are expected to influence a team’s outcome without much formal authority over them. This becomes even more relevant when taking part in geographically dispersed teams, where the impact of different cultures might get in the way your effectiveness as an emerging leader.

Soft tactics, like presence in email exchanges through frequent helpful participation, or seeking to ingratiate yourself may result in higher acceptance of you by the rest of the team. It pays to be kind, as long as you do not look insincere; much as in face-to-face communication, flattery may advance your interests, but not if it is perceived as seeking ulterior motives.

Email, in being emotionally lean, facilitates the application of soft tactics like ingratiating yourself in one email, even with typos, for those may be taking as evidence of spontaneity. Yet it may pay sending a request for collaboration in a subsequent email, avoiding a too facile link of your ingratiation move with the request for help or input.


On the other hand, hard tactics like commands or reprimands, are particularly resented when perceived as presumptuous, as they are when you have no formal authority over the people you may address such emails too.

Appearing rational in an email exchange is always positive, but does not seem to be as important in generating followers to your position. In part because you are expected to be rational in any case, but also because the email environment, being so emotionally lean in nature, prizes those who voice affection and consistency, the latter being taken as evidence of fairness, a quality expected of an effective leader.

Before hitting the Send button it might pay to think how you might be seen at the others’ Inbox. Take some time to Read more at: Lindred L. Greer & Karen A. Jehn. Follow Me: Strategies Used by Emergent Leaders in Virtual Organizations, International Journal of Leadership Studies. Volume 5, Issue 1 / 2009.