Writing an email in English probably takes more time and effort than it does in your own language. So – especially when you’ve got an inbox full of mails to reply to – it can be tempting to only write to someone when you have to and then keep it brief and to the point. And, of course, there are plenty of situations where that’s exactly what’s called for: a clear, concise message. 

On the other hand, if there are people around the world who you work closely with, yet rarely meet in person, email may well be your main channel of communication. And then it’s a pity to keep communication to the bare minimum and miss out on opportunities for building and maintaining relationships. So what other options are there? 

The same old phrases

Word seems to have got around that Brits, for example, appreciate a friendly start to an email before you get down to business. And so a lot of people write “How are you?” at the beginning. It’s a start, but it’s not enough to build up a relationship. If someone always writes that, I don’t know whether they’re genuinely interested in how I am or not. And I end up writing something along the lines of “Fine, thanks. Hope you are too.” And to be honest we could just as well have skipped the pleasantries and got straight down to business.
(I also wrote about the phrase Please don’t hesitate to contact me a while ago.)

Make it real

How can you do it better? For me the key is variety and personalization. Perhaps you already know what the weather is like in the recipient’s city at the moment. If not take a moment to look it up. Then you can write “How are you coping with all the snow at the moment?” or “Hope you’re keeping well in spite of the cold, wet weather.” Or on Mondays instead of “Hope you had a nice weekend”, how about “Did you have a chance to enjoy the sunshine at the weekend? Here in Münster it certainly felt like spring is on the way.”

Try a little small talk

The next step can be to offer a little extra information to someone you’re in regular contact with. So instead of writing “Could you send me the information by the end of this week, please. I’m not in the office next week”, you can write “Could you send me the information by the end of this week, please. I’m off skiing in Austria next week.” This gives the recipient opportunities for small talk ­–asking you where you’re going exactly, wishing you a nice holiday, asking you how it was afterwards, etc. Keep your eyes open for similar openings in the emails you receive and ask a question or make a comment. As with all small talk, keep it nice and light.

Go the extra mile

Make an extra effort. How about writing specifically to say thank you to someone if they’ve done you a favour or were particularly helpful? Or you could send a mail to congratulate someone on a promotion or the successful completion of a project.

Perhaps you’ve come across an interesting link on a topic you know your colleague or business partner is interested in – send it to them. But be selective, don’t bombard them with links to articles which they are very likely to have already seen or which are only vaguely related.

Of course, you could just add the link or a sentence saying thank you or well done to your next email. But I’m convinced that wouldn’t have the same impact. Taking the time to writing a separate email is what people really appreciate.

These are just a few ideas. It’s all about recognizing and creating opportunities to build stronger relationships with colleagues and business partners – wherever they’re based.


Do you need individual support with emails?  My email coaching offers just that. 



Porträt Nicola Bartlett
Nicola Bartlett