Tips for better e-mails

E-mail is an extremely valuable communication channel. But it can be abused if used carelessly or too much. Here are some basic tips for better e-mail use and management.

USE E-MAIL AS ONE CHANNEL OF COMMUNICATION

It’s fast and easy. It can document discussions. It enables high impact messages to be sent around the world with the click of a mouse. But it also misleads bosses into thinking they can manage large groups of people through regular group e-mails. Use e-mail wisely, but don’t manage your company through it.

KEEP IT SHORT AND SWEET

Know that e-mails longer than one screen-full often aren’t read right away; they get shoved to the end of the day or the next morning. Know also when it’s time to put down the mouse and go talk to someone, or pick up the phone. There comes a point when further e-mailing eats up time unnecessarily.

DECODE YOUR MESSAGES AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE

Say what you really want to have happen. Start with the subject line: Make it clear and compelling. Be certain about who really needs to be on the ‘to:’ and the ‘cc:’ line. Be clear about action items and priorities. Spell them out, as lists or bulleted items. Include a response button or some other mechanism if you must know that everyone has read and understood your message. Encourage people to respond with questions.

SAVE YOUR WRATH FOR FACE-TO-FACE MEETINGS

‘Flame mails’, or e-mails dripping with criticism or venom, often backfire. Terse e-mails, because they are not accompanied by the writer’s facial expression or body language, can easily come across more harsh than intended.

INJECT HUMOUR, BUT KEEP EMOTICONS TO A MINIMUM

The smiley faces do help clarify when you are being facetious. But too many facetious mails erode your attempts to write serious ones. What about joke e-mails? Some companies forbid them. Send them or pass them on at your own risk.

HAVE A BUFFER BETWEEN WHEN YOU SEND AND WHEN

Experts see value in managers being able to retract poorly written messages before they even go out. A 5-minute rule won’t hurt anyone. If you’re angry when you’re about to write, take a step further. Get up and walk around or do something else before you write the mail.

SET TIME TO ANSWER YOU’RE E-MAILS

If you can’t keep up during a normal day, build time into your work day or delegate some of the responsibility. When is it too late to respond to someone? Never.

GET SOME TRAINING

Or at least get help from a secretary or subordinate. E-mail should have some role in your communication with employees, partners and others — there is really no valid reason to avoid it.

USE SPELL-CHECK — AND A THESAURUS 

Avoid typos and mangled sentences. They make you look bad. Avoid clichés, too.    

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