Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Do's and Don'ts of Email

Email is so common now it's almost passe.  Texts threaten to usurp- and further abbreviate- other methods of communication.  As septuagenerians venture online, tweens consider email old news. But in the arena of effective leadership (and management), real communication is still one of the pillars of effectiveness.

So this month I bring you a brief list of email do's and don'ts to help keep yourself out of trouble in the workplace, and to make your communication just that much smoother around the office:

  • Use email to set up meetings, to recap spoken conversations, or to follow up on information already discussed face-to-face
  • Keep email messages short and to the point.  Many people read the messages on tiny screens on their phones
  • Use email to prepare a group of people for a meeting (sending materials to review, reminders of time and location, etc.)
  • Use email to transmit standard (non-sensitive) reports
  • Act like a newspaper reporter: Use the subject line to grab attention, put the most important info in the first paragraph, answering the important who, what, when, where, how, and why right away
  • Be aware of the email "tail" - you know, that part of the email that contains the history of the conversation back and forth that automatically builds when you hit reply.  I have seen more than a few people very embarrassed by forgetting that there is a whole history down there, and sending it off to someone new.  When in doubt, just start a brand new email to reply and avoid all the history.
  • Know your audience.  The better you know them, and the longer your history in working together, the more you can assume that they can "read between the lines" of your message and get the correct intent.  Be more careful with those whom you just started working with- the potential to get a message misinterpreted is higher.  

    • Use email to discuss something with someone who sits right next to or down the hall from you- get off of your chair and go see them the old fashioned way!
    • Respond in anger or while agitated.  If something sets you off, set it aside for 10 minutes or more and get some perspective.  Try to get some perspective and calm down before responding- and ask yourself if you even need to respond to such emails.  Sometimes no response is the best one.  Remember-email is forever... do you want your explosion of anger frozen in time for others to pull up later?
    • Hit reply to all without giving some serious thought as to how your response will be seen by EACH and EVERY recipient.  Conveying emotion electronically is hard enough, but sending one message to many recipients makes it that much harder.  Read and re-read that email response before replying to all.
    • Write anything in an email that you wouldn't want to have published in a newspaper or company newsletter for all to see.  Because let's face it, when you come right down to it, that's basically what email is.  There is more chance that something WILL leak out than it WON'T.  
    Happy emailing! 

    note: more than a few of these do's and don'ts come from Andrea Poe's article "Don't Touch that 'Send' Button" article from HR Magazine 7/01.

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