I appreciate technology as much as the next person, but I draw the line when it comes to inappropriate use of email. My email is exploding – literally. From unsolicited political or personal messages to the dreaded “reply all” on group communication, I’ve seen countless examples of blunders and misuse. I think we all have.
My family is finally sending those “laugh out loud” emails to my personal email, and I’m (slowly) training others when to include me in email chains and when not to. And while I’m the first one to value appreciative comments, I can pass on the “thanks” email that ends a chain.
Unfortunately, effective communication can be the casualty when employees have to manage such a glut of information. People pay less attention to the actual message when managing their overflowing inbox becomes a matter of deciding what’s important and what can be ignored.
That’s why, before you risk being in the “ignored” (or worse, “deleted”) category, think hard about what it will take to communicate effectively and whether email is the best way to deliver your message to best engage employees.
Before I share some dos and don’ts, here’s one of the best uses of email in the workplace: as a follow-up to a meeting or conversation. It’s a win-win strategy for all involved because the email is a summary and record of understanding, and is brief so it’s easy-to-read and get through. For example, you meet with your boss and then send a short summary email of what was agreed to, or you meet with a supplier and ask them to send you a recap of their understanding of the next steps. Using email as follow-up can dramatically increase your communication effectiveness and save you time.
Here are some additional dos and don’ts to consider when sending an email:
Keep it brief
Email is a good way to alert people of key news and direct them to detailed information elsewhere. If you need to cover several topics, summarize the important points in the first paragraph and provide highlights with subheads and brief introductions that link to attachments or intranet pages for more information.
Share key content in the subject line
The subject line will help recipients screen and prioritize email in their inboxes. Specify “Action needed” or “Reply requested” when you need immediate response.
Target the right people
Limit email communications to those for whom the topic is relevant. Use group lists only if information is meaningful for the entire group. Copy supervisors or managers on emails sent to their employee reports so they can be ready to answer questions as needed.
Consider the timing
Email is not an appropriate vehicle for something requiring an urgent response – keep in mind the audience and the fact that some may not check or respond to email immediately.
Be friendly and professional
Email may be informal but should never be sloppy or inaccurate. Use correct grammar and spelling (no texting shortcuts) and be careful to use a pleasant tone so your communication is not misinterpreted.
Check it twice
Prevent most-embarrassing moments by proofreading everything in an email, including the recipient email addresses, message content (including previous emails you may be forwarding) and any attachments, before you push “send.”
Give feedback on poor email communication
Let colleagues know how you feel about receiving unwanted email and ask them to limit similar activity in the future. If you’re able to receive personal emails at work, ask friends to send them to your personal email account.
Email personal or confidential information
Emails live on forever and can be forwarded, shared, copied and subpoenaed. Don’t share anything in an email that you would not want to see on the front page of a newspaper or the Jumbotron in Times Square.
Send unnecessary business emails
Being the source of unnecessary or excessive emails puts you at risk of being ignored now and in the future. Don’t send something by email unless it’s needed, especially if information is repeated in other internal communications vehicles. (“Reply all” messages also fall into this category!)
Forward virus warnings, chain letters or junk mail
Check with your information technology department to verify any virus warnings and let them communicate issues to the organization.
Use sarcasm, negative comments or ALL CAPS
Remember that email messages lack the nuances of voice inflection or facial expressions that are part of personal conversations. Don’t take chances with misinterpretation – err on the side of positive language and never send an email response when you are upset.
Use email as a replacement for personal contact
Never underestimate the importance of a face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversation, especially for matters that are personal or sensitive. Don’t use email to avoid a difficult situation -- if you have a problem with a person or must admit a mistake, speak with the people involved directly.
What are your pet peeves with email?
What do you see as the most effective ways to use email for internal communications?
- David Grossman
In The Greatest Mistakes (You Don’t Want to Make),communications experts share their knowledge for the ultimate resource of inspiring takeaways and actionable tips for effective leadership and communication for 2011...and years to come.