We are more connected than ever and navigate such a constant flood of communications these days, that it’s easy to misplace, misinterpret, or miss emails altogether. Attention spans are short, and a confusing or poorly-worded message can quickly be passed over. The following tips can help senders receive a faster response and help avoid the unintended consequences of careless communication practices.
Assume all communications are public
Before hitting send, ask yourself what your CEO would say if he or she read the email. Remember there is no concept of privacy with electronic communications. If you would be embarrassed or upset if a wider audience saw it – it’s not an email you should be sending. Refrain from gossip, flip comments or other off-the-cuff replies that seem innocent but could have devastating consequences to your relationships or your career.
Keep it professional at all times
Just as we strive to maintain a professional business appearance, we should strive for professional written communications. Slang, text abbreviations, and overly casual terms may be okay for personal correspondence after hours, but they have no place in business. Proper punctuation, sentence structure and other grammatical conventions show you are a serious professional who can be trusted to communicate effectively at all levels.
Count to 10 before sending
Although not anonymous, the distance created by email emboldens some to send tersely-worded or passive-aggressive communications that would not be said face-to-face. When you are the recipient of such a discourse, it’s tempting to fire back and state your case; especially when numerous others have been copied and are undoubtedly waiting eagerly for your move. Take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and focus on the longer-term goal of moving things forward. Send a short reply suggesting it would be best to continue the conversation face-to-face, then send out a private meeting invite. Though you may disappoint those awaiting a heated email volley, you will confirm your ability to focus on thoughtful and productive actions, rather than drama. Email is never the forum for emotional conversations – unless the expression is one of high praise or clear joy.
Utilize the subject line wisely – and urgent emails even more wisely
Help readers prioritize emails with a descriptive subject indicating the necessary next step, ex: “Notes from Client Meeting: No action needed.” Or: “Financial Report: Need your Review by Friday.” Use “High Importance” tags with restraint as these should be reserved for only the most time-sensitive items. Remember that an oversight on your part should not constitute an emergency for others! Allow appropriate follow-up time and provide an explanation for an email needing urgent attention.
Lead with the request, follow with the detail
Unfortunately, most of us believe we can multitask effectively. In reality, by giving everything only partial attention, we can miss a lot. Your lead sentence should focus on the purpose for the email. Ex: “ Please provide estimates by Friday, ” or “I will respond to item number 5 by Wednesday.” Providing background information can be very helpful, but label it as such so the reader has an option to look now or later. Write with an active voice, state clearly what is needed, and provide a due date as necessary so the reader knows exactly what is expected.
Remember your manners!
Remember the reader can’t see your face or guess your tone. Although recipients will appreciate your being direct and to the point, they will also appreciate the request that starts with please, and a closing that contains thank you. We are all busy and juggling many tasks, but there is no excuse for omitting courtesy when asking for the time of others.
Don’t make recipients hunt for information
Strive to make each email self-contained between your words and supporting documentation. Although it’s tempting to send the reader a link to find the information, it’s much more effective to cut and paste the relevant information into the body of the message, so action can be taken immediately. Recipients may quickly move to the next message if they need to spend extra time deciphering what you want. If you are responding to a request, refresh the sender’s mind with a brief reference to the subject, ex: “Last week you asked me to provide a list of risks for project X. Here are some of my main concerns…”
Use names in group emails
Avoid ambiguity by naming names in group emails. Clearly state you are looking for a response from everyone, or single out those responsible early in the email. Ex: “John – please provide input on X.” “Mary –please send me the document on subject Y.”
Do we all need to know?
Although someone needs to know what entrée you’ve chosen for the holiday party – it is necessary to tell everyone? Use “Reply All” only if everyone truly needs to know your response. A “thank you,” “congratulations,” or “I’ll have the salmon,” is best shared with only a single recipient or a vastly reduced list as appropriate.
By keeping a respectful tone, using clear wording and providing complete information when you initiate an email, you will increase your chance of a timely response and decrease the chance of creating confusion or conflict. Take the time to proof read you communications, and follow the email Hippocratic Oath of “First Send no Harm,” to ensure your emails get results, and not reactions.
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