Ooops – pardon my rudeness…

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The most popular method of business communication is by far and away (wait for it…) – email! Wow, what a revelation – now tell me something I don’t know.

While that certainly is no a-ha moment, email leaves a helluva lot to be desired as a method of communication. It has become the easy way out to NOT have to make a phone call or have a face to face meeting over a difficult subject (coward!) and it has also made us all fat and lazy. Don’t believe me? Then answer me this: how many times have you sent an email to your work mate down the hall or even right next door? I’m betting that 99% of you do it regularly – I know I catch myself doing it all the time. Alas… what happened to the good old days when people used to talk, face to face, where body language takes its rightful place as the true determiner of what the spoken word REALLY means? You can’t do body English in an email, at least not yet.

I guess we are stuck with email for the foreseeable future at least. And while I may not always be the – ahem, most politically correct or polite person in the room – I think that we could all clean up our email correspondence a little to avoid some otherwise unintended brusqueness. So to keep email from running roughshod over what is left of our lives, think about these simple suggestions. It will make your life easier, more productive and you’ll probably piss off a lot less people.

  • We are all up against it in terms of time. Set aside blocks of time during the day in which you will respond to emails. You can do it once, twice or even three times a day but if you are responding as they arrive, you are guilty of the committing the biggest time-burn known to man. Set aside a couple of blocks of time during the day and for God’s sake, turn off that damned Outlook desktop notification window! Its siren song will lead you to a shipwreck of a schedule. You may also want to add a tag to your signature: “Thank you for your email. I always make best effort to respond within 24 hours.” Or 48 or whatever works. Just set an email schedule and stick to it.
  • Keep your emails to the point. We don’t have time to read a book. State your point and get on with it already. Make the subject of the email describe the email and if all you have is one sentence, put it in the subject line followed by EOM (end of message). That way, those of us who use the preview pane will know we don’t need to open the message. For example… Subject: See you in an hour for lunch EOM. That is better than Subject: Lunch Body: See you in an hour for lunch. I don’t need to open the email to get what I need from the email.
  • Be extremely careful about what you say about another person in an email. Remember, once you hit send you have zero control over where it goes next.
  • Don’t say anything that could be misconstrued or taken out of context. It is very easy to say something that you think is perfectly innocent just to have it completely misunderstood, the result of which are bad feelings and the accompanying awkward back pedal. And that one is on you, not the injured party. Pick up the phone or far better yet, if it is sensitive and there is any chance of a missed delivery on your part, have a face-to-face.
  • Use email as a follow-up to verbal conversations. Have your meeting or con call and use email after the fact to ensure everyone is on the same page and to indicate responsibility and / or accountability. Example… Subject: Con call follow-up Body: Thanks to everyone on the call today. To recap, Susan you will be following up with the customer, Rick you need to… etc. Now everyone is confirmed to know what’s the deal and no one can say “Sorry – I must have missed that part of the phone call.”

Email is a powerful tool but like a hammer, one ill-advised or poorly worded email and you can have a “swing and a miss” and really get hurt. There are a ton of email do’s and don’ts. Which category do you find yourself in most of the time?

Agree? Disagree? Have some tips of your own? I’ve shared my thoughts; let me know yours.