Welcome to HR Coffee Time. It's great to have you here. I'm your host, Fay Wallis, a career and executive coach with a background in HR, and I'm also the founder of Bright Sky Career Coaching. I've made HR Coffee Time especially for you to help you have a successful and fulfilling HR and People career without working yourself into the ground.
If the organisation you work for is hybrid or fully remote, this episode is here to help you build trust throughout the workforce by using brilliant email practices. Because I know that now we have less face-to-face time with our colleagues email has become a more important tool than ever before. But it's also a tool that can cause a lot of problems if it isn't used well.
So in today's episode, you are going to get to meet Kim Arnold. Kim is a communication expert and a self-proclaimed email geek. She shares some brilliant ideas for email practices that will help you to build trust and empower you to make a positive impact in your role as a People professional. Some of the many things that she covers in the episode are how to write brilliant emails, common email mistakes to avoid so you don't erode trust or end up upsetting people by mistake.
How to overcome writer's block if you're feeling stuck, tackling email overwhelm for yourself and your organization, and the benefits of creating an email playbook. I hope you're going to really enjoy the episode and find it useful. I can't wait to hear what you think about it. Let's dive in and meet Kim now.
Welcome back to the show. Kim, it is fantastic to have you back on HR Coffee time.
Kim Arnold [:
It's great to be here. Thanks so much for having me back.
Fay Wallis [:
Oh, you are so welcome. I'm really looking forward to our conversation today, and for anyone who hasn't listened to our first episode together, which was all the way back in episode 32 and was called How to Write Work Emails That Get Results. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the work that you do?
Kim Arnold [:
Yes. So I'm founder of Email Engagement, which is the world's number one email writing training program. I'm also author of the bestselling award-winning book, Email Attraction: Get What You Want every Time You Hit Send. So I'm a massive email nerd. And we work with organizations all over the world from Australia to the Arctic Circle including big corporates, law firms, banks and smaller businesses as well to help them build more effective and inclusive email cultures.
And we work a lot with all sorts of teams, including HR teams, internal comms, sales, marketing, legal, you name it. And pretty much everyone has similar challenges with email. So how do we get people's attention and how do we build relationships remotely?
Fay Wallis [:
What a brilliant introduction. Thank you very much, Kim.
For anyone who has listened to the earlier episode, you may know that I invited Kim onto the show. I was quite new to having the podcast. We, well, I suppose 32 episodes in, so I'd had it for a little while, but I was still developing my bravery muscles, about inviting really amazing guests onto the show and inviting people who I didn't know onto the show. So I think Kim was either the very first person or one of the very first people who I reached out to and said, I love your book and I love your interview I heard you do with someone else.
Please would you come on my show? And very kindly, you accepted. So, it has just been fantastic to see your success since we recorded that episode. Very well deserved success. What was the award that you won for the book?
Kim Arnold [:
Oh, thank you. It was the best business book awards and I won highly commended in the short book category. So I'm all about conciseness in in writing, particularly in emails. We haven't got the attention span these days, so I wanted to walk the walk and walk the talk rather, and write a really short, snappy book that you can read in your lunch hour. And that's, that's what I did and that's what the award was for.
Fay Wallis [:
Oh, brilliant. And it is an absolutely great read. I've recommended it to loads of people and I've even had clients buy it for their entire teams after they've read it. So I agree. It's a short, snappy book. It's really colourful as well, and quite fun. So I'd definitely recommend for anyone listening you take a look at it.
And today you are with us to talk about hybrid working and actually how email can help us with building trust amongst hybrid and remote teams.
And I think this is such an interesting topic because it's something that so many people are struggling with. Even though we all had to go fully remote a while ago now when the pandemic struck, I think there is this real struggle around fully adjusting to either being remote or working in hybrid teams because we just haven't got that face-to-face time anymore.
It is something we've talked about on the podcast once before, and for anyone listening who really wants to dig into this topic, I'll make sure that I share a link to that episode. So I know that for you, Kim, you feel that email is an integral tool, an integral part of building trust amongst hybrid teams.
So I'd love to start off our conversation today by asking you why. Why do you think it's so important?
Kim Arnold [:
Well, there's been this, this huge shift as we, we all well aware, aren't we? Hybrid working. We are relying far more on written communication than ever before. So Grammarly says in a recent survey we spent around 16 hours a week on written comms versus around 11 on verbal comms.
And written comms are increasing at a much greater rate. So up 18% year on year. And when it comes to our writing, we're relative newbies at learning how to build relationships and persuade and influence people. We've done it for thousands and thousands of years in person, since we were, cavemen and women.
We have learned how to do that in person, but doing it via email, via Teams, via Slack. We are, we are much newer at this, but these are really, really fantastic tools for creating bonds of trust with our colleagues, with our clients, with our stakeholders. Because email really has become a reflection of our personal brand.
So we are judging people far more on the content of their email than we are perhaps on, on those physical interactions that we might have because they're, they're much less frequent. And even when we are on Teams calls, for example, we might not even see people's faces. They might have their videos off.
So it's quite hard to build that picture of people. And so the content of our emails is becoming increasingly important to show people, Yeah. You can like me, I'm a trustworthy person. I'm someone that you want on my team. You are someone that you want to work with. And when we do emails well, when we show a bit of our personality and put ourselves into our emails, it creates much stronger bonds with the people that we work with.
So email is a, is a really great tool for, for doing it. We are not always great at doing it now, but we are starting to learn how important it is to, to get those written communications really spot on.
Fay Wallis [:
And I know that all of us will have experienced at some point a reaction from someone when they may have misconstrued our intent when sending an email or we've received an email and thought, oh my gosh, that was a bit harsh, or that was a bit rude, and if we've brought it up with the person who's sent it, they've been absolutely mortified.
What do you think some of the classic mistakes are that we tend to make when we are using email that can trip us up when it comes to building this trust with hybrid teams.
Kim Arnold [:
Well, there's just going on your, on your example there. Client was telling me great story the other day. She said she was working really late one night.
Her boss sent her a report that she'd been waiting for and she sent back 'thank you', and he replied saying 'no thank you'. And she got very worried. She said, what have I done? She was agonizing. It was late at night. Why is he being so aggressive with me? He's normally a nice guy. So luckily she decided to call him up and she, she rang him.
She said, look, can I just clear this up? Have I done something to offend you? He says, what do you mean? She said, well, your email, 'no thank you'. And of course you probably guessed it. He meant 'no, thank you'. So the absence of that comma and perhaps of the emphasis, you know, where you might put capitals or really, really made such a huge difference in how she interpreted that email. And that is just one of a gazillion little micro miscommunications that that happen every single day in our, in our work lives. Grammarly, back to that study, they found that knowledge workers and business leaders experience miscommunication at least once a week. And studies really show that we are terrible at interpreting people's intent over email. We are really bad at it, but we think we are good at it. And we think that we are really good at communicating our own intentions over email, and we are really bad at that. So it's like this double whammy. There's this perfect storm of fertile ground for miscommunication.
We think we are really great. We are not. We think we can tell what other people are saying and we can't. So that really is the biggest one, is assuming that we can detect more from email than, than we can. Email, I always say, is quite a blunt tool. It's not the place for nuance necessarily.
We are firing out emails at warp speed and the opportunity for miscommunication is, is, is so rife. We don't spend the time reading really thoroughly. We don't spend enough time writing our emails thoroughly, and yet we jump to all of these conclusions. So the number one, thing is, assuming intent.
And the second thing is speed is probably one of the biggest contributors to these problems. If we, if we slow down and if we accept that we don't always know what other people mean, then we're going to have a much, much better time over email.
Fay Wallis [:
Yes, and I know that when you joined me before for episode 32, you give a lot of tips as to how to write really effective emails.
So I'd really encourage anyone who would like to brush up their skills on email writing to have a listen to that for some of the really in-depth tips as well. Today, I would love to ask you about it on a slightly broader perspective because I wholeheartedly agree, Kim, how important email is. I'm obviously in email contact with all of my coaching clients regularly, and also I send out a weekly email and I'll spend absolutely ages thinking about what's the best way of me writing this, so I'm actually getting the best possible message across.
And so hopefully people can feel a little bit of my personality and my work values coming through there, and I mean, I probably completely overthink it. And actually one thing that I found helpful is to start trying to have some sort of template. So I would never just send out a blank email that I send out, whenever I get an enquiry, I always make sure I personalise it. But it's so helpful to have some sort of framework there for me to pull on and adapt. Because otherwise, like you're saying, if you are busy and there's an inclination to think, 'Oh, I'll just quickly reply to that.'
I really worry that all of those important messages and tone and everything I want to get across isn't necessarily come through. Because if you are experiencing a busy day, I feel that's sort of when your creative brain just shuts down. And that's probably when you do get emails like the one you just mentioned where someone has said, 'no thank you', but they meant 'no, thank you'.
And so thinking about HR teams or people within the People function who are listening today, they will often have responsibility for internal communications. So where they are having to send out, whether it's part of onboarding and there is a framework, there's a set structure that they want to follow, or whether they are going to be emailing huge groups of the workforce at the same time.
If they're very lucky, they might have an internal comms team or an internal marketing person they can turn to for support with that. But often, especially in smaller organisations, that responsibility falls on them. And I think that that can feel really daunting and a bit intimidating because as you started off saying, no one really teaches us this stuff at all. No one at school, well maybe they do at school now, sits you down to teach you how to write a really compelling email. So I would love to hear what your advice is to anyone who is in that situation, whether they are an internal comms person and they want to brush up their email writing skills, or actually they are within the HR or People team and feel that they could be doing these internal communications a lot better, but they're just not very confident in their email writing abilities. What would your top tips or biggest piece of advice be to them?
Kim Arnold [:
Yes. I think it's, it's so hard for a lot of internal comms teams who have been thrust into this maelstrom of getting out these really important communications to a often a very diverse audience. And, you've got 15 different stakeholders telling you all the stuff that you need to include and how you should do it, and you have to synthesize all of these wants and needs of all these different parties.
It's, it's such a tough job that even for the most experienced copywriter, that might be quite daunting, let alone someone who doesn't necessarily have that experience. So number one thing I would recommend studying copywriting. So from a, a sort of marketer's perspective, really understanding the fundamentals of, of great copywriting.
There's some brilliant books out there. But one acronym that I teach in my master classes to all sorts of clients from all sorts of, of internal teams is from the copywriter, Andy Maslen, and he talks about K F C. So very easy to remember. Makes you hungry. I think of chicken every time. But K F, C, know, feel, and commit.
So what do you want your audience to know? What's that bare minimum information you want to get across? What do you want them to feel? So the emotion, do you want them to feel excited, reassured. Perhaps a little anxious, worried, you know, there's a deadline that, that you've got to get them to, maybe you want them to feel optimistic about the future. Emotion is such a powerful motivator. We tend to focus only on the facts, but not on the emotions. That's really important. And then the C. Commit. What do you want them to commit to? What do you want them to do next? Is it fill out a form? Is it take part in your employee survey? Is it to read some information? Is it to get involved in something?
And when we have those three things, Know, Feel, and Commit. K F C. It is such a brilliant framework to gather your thoughts and get them together. So it's a classic copywriting technique. So that's my number one K F C, study copywriting. It will stand you in really good stead. Number two is about tone, typically in internal comms and, in a lot of HR comms in general.
We tend to defer to quite a formal style of speaking. So using words like, ensure, ensure, and utilize and commence. And this often comes from a place of insecurity. We're a bit worried perhaps about our writing skills or about our lack of academic background. Or it might be that we just feel a bit insecure about not having done these kind of things before.
As you said, you know, we've been thrusted to this world of email, we've never had to do it before. So we go into sort of professional mode and we come across as very stiff and very stilted. I think you and I talked about this last time, Fay. So, the more we can write like we speak, the better. Now, this doesn't mean going off into, you know, super informal language, you know, Hey, how you doing?
But it does mean simplifying our language, making it warm, thinking about if I were talking to you in person, what would I say? And writing that. It's a great way, we can just record what we would say. And transcribe it and work with that as your first draft. That can be a really great tip. Takes the the pain out of that blank page.
And then the third thing really is make it shorter. I can't express to you how much of our communications and our writing is completely wasted because people don't read it. Typically, you want to front load your communications with your main point. At school and at university we are taught to write an introduction and then argue our points in the middle, and then we get to the point at the end or conclusion, but we want to flip that on its head for emails.
And, and typically any writing where people are going to be reading it online. Put the main meat of your point right up front in your internal email. What is this about? And answer that question, why should you care? What is in it for me? If your reader, if your people in your organization can get that point right up there in your first sentence, your first paragraph, 'Oh, right, I understand what's in it for me. I'm going to keep reading.' So those are my three tips. K, F, C, ditch the corporate speak, write human to human, and try and make it as short as possible, front loading your most important information.
Fay Wallis [:
I think it's so much more enjoyable when you are able to write without thinking you have to write in a very formal way as well.
So if people are thinking, oh gosh, how daunting, I've got to write all these emails, you can start to feel like you dread it, can't you? But actually, I think when you start to realise. I can write as I speak almost it becomes a little bit more fun. I know. I definitely enjoy sending emails and particularly my weekly email, much more than I used to enjoy emailing earlier on in my career when I did think, oh, I must use formal language. It makes it all much more enjoyable and much more personable and a little bit more fun so that actually it's a task you're going to enjoy doing instead of dreading doing.
Kim Arnold [:
That's right. I always say if you are bored writing it, there'll be bored reading it, and if you dread writing it, they'll dread reading it.
So yes, have some fun, sound like yourself. More than anything. Most internal comms are just really boring. So let's put a bit of joy into people's days, a bit of spark, a bit of personality, and people will really thank you for it.
Fay Wallis [:
And when we're talking about building trust in this hybrid or remote world that we find ourselves in, what are your thoughts on what kind of emails we should be sending, how frequently we should be sending them? Because I have seen the flip side of a lot of email communication. I had a client I remember last year, and she was completely overwhelmed because the team were operating in a hybrid way and they wanted to make sure everyone had great communication.
She was being copied in on every single email imaginable. She showed me her phone and you could literally see emails pinging in every second that she was sitting there sitting with me. So I would love to hear from you what your view is on all of this.
Kim Arnold [:
Well, she's not alone. I hear this from clients every day that they are feeling completely overwhelmed, and more and more clients are saying, forget inbox zero.
You know that that went out 20 years ago. Now I'm just filtering by subject line and by people who chase me. The only way that I can cope is by, if someone chases me, then I, it must be urgent enough. Or if they start shouting and calling me. So it, it's a very tricky one. Email is a fantastic tool when we need to have audit trails. So it's very important to understand what you need to use email for and what you don't need to use email for.
Email really is not a jack of all trades, but it's become that since hybrid working. We, ask of it too many things, similar to PowerPoint. PowerPoint was designed as a visual aid and now we cram thousands of words onto it in, you know, 0.8 font and wonder why everyone hates it so much. But actually if you just put a couple of pictures on a slide, brilliant.
So it's the same with email. What I encourage clients to do, and I. We do lots of workshops on email overwhelm and, and how to tackle that is to think about replacing email where you can. So for example, with project management, that's a really simple one. If you have a project, take that off and put it onto a project management system like Wrike or Asana, or something like that where everyone can just see the information in real time.
Something like Slack as well can be incredibly helpful, but be very purposeful about that. We are going to use email where we need an audit trail. We're gonna use this for project management. Other clients of mine have used Slack and Teams for internal communication and email for external communication, for example.
So starting with an audit is really helpful. How do we use email today? Where is all of the overwhelm coming from? Is it from things that I'm being CC'd on? What actually can we do proactively to take ourselves off those lists? So where we can do the, the audit, then thinking about how we can replace it.
And then finally thinking about an email playbook. I really encourage all of our clients to do this, and there's been some fantastic results. Is holding everyone to really high standards about how you use email. What's the kind of language we use? When do we use email? When don't we use email? When is a, a phone call, the right answer instead? When should it be a meeting? You know, when should email be a meeting? Often we talk about when meetings could have been emails, but there's also the flip side of that as well. So having that playbook, and we help organizations develop these all the time. Can be such a powerful time saver for everyone.
You're talking thousands and thousands of hours saved each year across the organization just with a simple playbook. Getting everyone on the same page and telling them, yeah, it's okay not to copy 70 people on this email. In fact, we'd rather you didn't. If you have to copy more than five people on this, use another platform.
So simple rules, guidelines, and that can be a huge help.
Fay Wallis [:
It's great to hear all of these ideas. Kim, as you were talking about the project management platform, it made me think I've just actually brought someone onto the team to help me with managing the podcast because it suddenly feels like it's getting out of control. Because I have so many people now applying to come and be a guest on the show and just monitoring where I'm up to with everyone, who I've had initial chats with, when recording dates are booked in for, if I am going to be having that guest on the show. So I've asked someone to come and help me with that, and she set up a project for it in Trello. And although I've used Trello before, I haven't really used it properly, so what I'm having now is just little alerts flash up on there and I can go directly in there to communicate with her, and it is quite a relief.
It's lovely to know that I'm not going to have this flood of emails coming in from her, and I haven't got to scroll through desperately trying to find which one I'm replying to next. Instead, everything is just in that system. That's only happened to me in the past week, so it's funny to hear you talk about that.
I had no idea that was going to be one of your recommendations. And then the suggestion for the playbook, it's funny how often the best advice is actually the simplest. It's a really simple but incredibly effective idea for everyone to just take that step back and really assess what are the best communication tools for the jobs that we need them to do. So thank you so much for sharing that.
Well, that brings us on to the question that I ask almost every guest who comes on the show, which is your non-fiction book recommendation.
Last time you were on the show, your recommendation was, Can I Change Your Mind? By Lindsay Camp. I'm looking forward to hearing what your book recommendation is going to be for today.
Kim Arnold [:
Well, I've gone slightly left field. I was going to recommend a straightforward copywriting book, but actually I've just read Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss.
Some of your listeners might have heard of this already. So Chris Voss is a former F B I negotiator, hostage negotiator. And he now works with big organisations all over the world, helping them in their M&A deals and all sorts of big negotiations and transactions. And, the reason why I brought this one up today is because we've been talking so much about empathy, about understanding people, about building collections, building relationships, and what really struck me about this book, which is packed full of advice about yes, how to negotiate, but really at the fundamental core, it's about having empathy for other people.
And how do we do that? How do we really listen effectively and how do we show that we are listening? How do we demonstrate that even in high stress scenarios? So I absolutely loved it. It's full of brilliant stories about crazy hostage taking scenarios. Makes me feel very boring in my, in my own little life here.
But it's a really, really great read. For anyone who wants to become a better communicator, more empathetic, and bring some of these high stakes techniques into your everyday life.
Fay Wallis [:
I have had that book recommended to me so many times. I'm not sure that it's been recommended on the show before, actually, so it's great to have it here as a definite recommendation.
I keep on meaning to put together a whole long list of every single book that every single guest has recommended. So that we all know. But I seem to keep putting that off. That keeps going to the bottom of my to-do list. I must try and push it up a bit higher again. So thank you for sharing your book recommendation.
I will make sure I put a link to it in the show notes as well for anyone who'd like to take a look at it. And that brings me to my very final question for you. For today, Kim, which is for anyone who has been listening and would love to learn more about you and the work that you do, what is the best way of them doing that?
Kim Arnold [:
So head on over to my website. It's www.kim arnold.co.uk. You can also sign up there for weekly communication tips. I know you get these, Fay. We write about how to get people's attention, how to sustain it, great email tips, writing tips, persuasion influence tips. A short email in your inbox every week.
And if you'd like to get in touch about. Masterclass is for your team, for your organisation or our email engagement program. Do get in touch through the website.
Fay Wallis [:
Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for coming back on the show, Kim. It's been lovely chatting to you again.
Kim Arnold [:
It's an absolute pleasure, Fay. Thank you so much.
Fay Wallis [:
If you've enjoyed today's episode, please can I ask you for a small favour? I'd be hugely grateful if you could do two things for me. Firstly, if you could share the podcast with a friend who you think will find it interesting and useful, that would be brilliant. Secondly, if you could rate and review HR Coffee Time for me on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, that would be wonderful.
It makes such a difference in helping the show get discovered by more people, and I would love to help as many HR and People professionals as possible with this free podcast. Thank you so much, and I look forward to being back again next Friday with the next episode.