Monday, August 31, 2009

Email Frenzy

by: Bryan Edwards

“I know that you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”

According to the Radicati Group an estimated 183 billion emails are sent every day. That’s around 2 million emails every second sent by 1.2 billion email Users! Moreover, there are an estimated 516 million business email boxes worldwide. That’s a heck of a potential for mis-communication, misunderstandings, angry words, bad feelings and loss of productivity if the messages go wrong.

Communication experts say that email is good for INFORMATION and CONFIRMATION. However it’s not good for EMOTION or PERSUASION. It is very difficult to convey enthusiasm, empathy or sincerity via email. You can type the words, but one doesn’t get a sense of the way the words are conveyed, and therefore the message can be misinterpreted.

Here are some tips on email etiquette.

When sending:

•In character, e-mail is somewhere between an informal telephone call and a formal letter, but an e-mail can be easily kept as a permanent record – a phone call is more difficult. Avoid slang, careless writing, thoughtless comments, too many dots or exclamation marks.

•Consider the recipient – who really needs to know? Is it ‘nice to know’ or ‘essential to their job to know’? Consider using group names very carefully – it may save you time but does everyone on the group list really need that message?

•Talk to your boss about the types of information he/she needs to be copied in on.

•Beware of humour and sarcasm – unless you know the recipient very well.

•Where is the recipient? If they are in the same office area, why not talk to them instead? Think of how long it takes to ‘talk’ the message compared to having to write it out.

•Don’t use email as an excuse not to talk to somebody. Barriers in communicating with difficult people can be broken down by hearing your voice, or perhaps seeing you, to build better rapport.

•Never email in anger. Calm down first, or consider an alternative method – email can never convey emotion. Face to face can be a much more effective way of getting how you feel across to an individual.

•Indicate the subject of the e-mail, and the purpose, in the subject header, to help the recipient e.g. ‘Leadership Training: Joining Instructions below’.

•Keep to business issues, avoiding personal e-mails and gossiping.

•Include ‘pleasantries’ at the start of the email e.g. ‘Hope you’re having a good week’ or perhaps a ‘Thanks for doing that last project so quick’ before you launch into your reason for emailing.

•Emailing bad news can be seen as ‘the coward’s way out’ because you don’t want to face the reaction. Also you can’t guarantee when they’ll read the bad news.

•Re-read the message before sending, putting yourself in the recipient’s shoes – what is the tone like? What unintended messages could the recipient see? Am I being succinct enough?

•Be careful about criticising people and organisations by email. A hasty remark by phone will be forgotten, on email there is a permanent record.

•Avoid writing in capital letters (to some this is the equivalent of shouting, and it makes it more difficult to read) and be carefully about emboldening words.

•If you classify all your e-mails as urgent, people may gradually stop treating them as such.

•Be careful about copying the message to the recipient’s manager – some people may view this as untrusting and underhand.

•Break the email ‘tennis’ – it’s far quicker to pick up the phone than reply with an email.

When reading:

•Deal with e mail at set times of the day ONLY– two or three times per day is a good guide. The tendency is to open email as soon as one arrives – if it was that urgent, the sender would have picked up the phone.

•Turn off the automatic ‘incoming email alert’ facility.

•Remove unwanted e-mails regularly – one user had 350 e-mails in his inbox after 3 days holiday! Always question WHY you keep an electronic copy?

•Set regular times e.g. last day of the month, to review and delete your e-mails.

•Set up folders for recipients. Important people such as the boss, the boss’s boss, and key customers could go into one folder that you check more frequently.

•If you feel emotional after reading a message, give the sender the benefit of the doubt and assume there has been a misunderstanding. Have you read the message carefully? Are you quite sure you’ve understood?

•If it’s about a complicated topic, or it’s a request for ideas or opinions, consider replying by phone, or meet up with the person.

•If you are out of the office for a few days, set up an automated ‘out of office reply’, giving an alternative person’s name who may be able to help.

•Send joke emails to your home inbox for reading later.