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Subject: Your professionalism shows in e-mail

E-mail
has no verbal clues or nuances
has no body language
can be easily misconstrued
often is conceived in haste and too casually for the workplace
can be combative, complex, emotional or ambiguous
can be hazardous to relationships and careers

The human touch is often missing
There’s no immediate give and take of conversation. E-mail can facilitate incivility. Curt e-mails are interpreted as ‘snippy’. If someone takes offense at your e-mail, don’t blame the recipient for misinterpretation. Apologize and learn. Work to improve your e-mails or use the phone or talk in person.

When to use and when not to use e-mail
Do--E-mail works best for short, straightforward information or requests.
Don’t—Ask questions for which you have the answers if you’d just look.
Do—Think about what else you need to request or write in this e-mail to communicate clearly.

Don’t--Gonthier in ‘Rude Awakenings’ says
Problem: e-mailing trivial information or brief messages to someone whose office is close by.
Solution: Face-to-face communication is still the best way to solve a problem, create camaraderie and spread goodwill. “Hiding behind e-mail is antisocial!””

The parts of a civil e-mail message
Subject lines are very important. Give the recipient an idea of the content.

Gonthier says e-mail salutations are important for civility. Rather than launching into the message, begin with ‘Greetings Leo’ or ‘Dear Jill’. I think it’s quite nice to receive e-mails that have a salutation… a touch of class. It adds some warmth to a very one-dimensional method of communication.

Your e-mail signature should be no more than six lines. It should contain your name, title and organization, street address, e-mail address and telephone. Your organization Web site is a nice addition. Quotes or sayings are not appropriate on workplace signatures.

Sloppy communication skills are correlated with sloppy and disjointed thinking
Answer the questions you’ve been asked.
If you need time to respond, have the courtesy to let the person know.
Flaming is venting emotions online. I think most everyone understands that typing in all capital letters is the equivalent of shouting and obviously, not a civil thing to do….not to mention what readership surveys tell us: all caps are hard to read.
Humor, irony and sarcasm are difficult to express.
Shorthand acronyms are not appropriate. (LOL for laughing out loud, etc.) All lower case letters are not acceptable either.
When you send to a group of people asking for information or wanting action, many assume someone else will reply. And when you are the one who does reply, copy the group so everyone knows the e-mail has been answered.

Don’t be too quick
Don’t send e-mails that go on…and on; people won’t read them. Edit your e-mails. Get to the point of the message. Focus on one point at a time and if you have too many points, try several e-mails or use the telephone. The time spent clarifying and editing will save you time later explaining what you meant.

Read over every e-mail before you hit ‘send’. Run spell-check. It doesn’t matter if the message goes to a coworker you’ve known for years or your new supervisor. It’s a reflection of you. And know, there will be times that something as simple as ‘it’ will be sent as ‘is’.

If in doubt, particularly when you’re upset…when you receive the e-mail that just sets you off... type a response and put it in your draft folder. Think about it. Often you’ll decide to trash it. Sometimes just the act of typing it provides some relief. Often it’s better to pick up the telephone or if possible, go talk to the person. Work to resolve the conflict so you can move on.

We all should be aware that any e-mail message can be sent to people we never anticipated would see the message. If information is sensitive or confidential or heated, don’t use e-mail.

One of the best e-mails I’ve ever written was six sentences. I got immediate action. I edited it off and on for several hours to get those sentences to the powerhouse stage. I suspect the people who received it thought I typed it in a matter of minutes.

Published this month
Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe
I have a copy ordered. Amazon.com has editorial reviews (click through to ‘more reviews’) and then below the details on the authors, read the excerpt from the introduction to the book. Entertaining and enlightening. I imagine it will give me fodder for more posts on using e-mail.

“The two words ‘information' and ‘communication' are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”
--Sydney Harris, American journalist and author (1917-1986)

Comments

Mellow Greetings on this rainy day, my friend.

I am guilty of all the don'ts -

I have a question, tho - and I am struggling to phrase it correctly, so I am going to write a small book.

I am managing multiple projects, each with elements I am not familiar with - new technologies and systems, different reporting structures for the team members, etc. I frequently have to recap my progress on the projects and the progress on individual "open items" to my project sponsors. My sponsors often have more familiarity with some of the systems than I do, so I need to be as accurate as possible in my information - generalizing is not acceptable because they need details and will ask me challenging questions that I cannot rely on my memory to answer. If I do more face-to-face short, informative conversations, I recap them in emails back to my conversation partners to "check my capture" on the information they have provided before I bubble it up. Sometimes this feels uncomfortable to me, as if I am "pinning them down" on points by putting it in writing - if we'd emailed, it would already be captured without seeming like I was "putting it on the record" - does that make sense?
So, while it may seem more civil to do conversations face to face, I can't rely on those types of interactions to help me learn the details and assess the risks of our approaches to solving problems...


It was interesting to read that "quotes" or "sayings" are inappropriate on an e-mail workplace signature. Although I have never used one, I have seen many on campus that do. Speaking for myself, I enjoy reading them. Many contain a lot of wisdom, or give me a thought for the day.
The information about sending replies "in the heat of the moment" is so correct. The "angry" reply e-mail will get you in trouble every time! It shows your personality in a completely negative light, and can be used against you. Write it, if you must, but do not push the send button!

Hello, fellow learners of e-mail potholes and dead-ends.
We are all new learners on the e-mail highway, and one of the best ways to learn is from our mistakes. I'm glad to see this topic presented so we can share our lessons. I've probably done every one of the don'ts that were listed.

Failure to proof our writing is one of the biggest problems. The great value and the great challenge of e-mail is its immediacy. We would catch not only misspellings, but also lack of clarity in structure and tone if we but put the e-mail aside for a moment, then returned to it to proof our writing.

I agree that e-mail can become a valuable record during work in progress. Sometimes even cubicle mates e-mail one another so that they have a written record of what they have done. That's a strength of e-mail.

I'm glad to see the call for a salutation. A greeting makes me feel closer to the sender and also helps me to know quickly whether the message is for me alone or whether I'm being copied on it.

My take on quotes as part of the sender's address is that they often speak to the sender's agenda and may have little relation to the message. At other times, quotes seem to point out the reader's shortcomings, so they don't leave a warm, fuzzy feeling. I do enjoy the funny quotes, but sometimes they are incongruous with the content of the message.

Good SUNNY morning!

I have to admit to seeing myself in some of your finer points! I'm going to add my two pet e-mail peeves to the mix. They're related to some of what others have discussed.

My work e-mail is just that--work e-mail. So when I get a message, I really don't like having to wade through a couple of paragraphs of personal stuff or "fur-petting" before I get to the subject at hand. What I mean by "fur-petting" is when I get a request prefaced by a paragraph or two of "how are you, how was your weekend, hope you had some time to do something fun, and by the way, I only need this teensy little thing done in the next five minutes." Seems the amount of extraneous happy talk is directly proportional to the time needed for the request, and inversely proportional to the lead time allowed!

I agree that an e-mail as a follow-up to a verbal conversation is often valuable--both when I send them and when I get them. However, the reverse order isn't always true! I really don't think it's a good use of someone's time to walk to my desk to say, "I just sent you an e-mail. Have you read it yet?" We all have different work styles, and may prefer to NOT continually check mail through the day, for efficiency or focus. Being interrupted and forced to read an e-mail while the sender stands and watches is at best annoying, and more likely darn rude.

Thanks for giving us this forum to exchange our views, and to remind us to do the right thing! I'm not going to comment on the signature lines, because sometimes I like them, sometimes I don't. The funniest one I saw was quoting somebody on excellence, and unfortunately, it had two misspelled words...