Help Stop the Spread of the Email Insanity

Man's hands on the keyboard of laptopSome days I want to declare email bankruptcy! I was recently swallowed up by a series of epic emails as a part of a conversation regarding a Board I serve on.  It was a 5 way conversation with everyone "reply all"ing and it was pure cyber mayhem!   We have since reformed our email etiquette but if you are like me,  between the “forward this to 7 friends or risk 7 years bad luck” and those who insist on writing Epic emails (those emails that would be better served  as a bound book of some kind) - Communicating well with email can be a little daunting!

There is hope and together we can become part of the solution as we learn a little email etiquette that will go a long way to stop the spread of the email insanity!  How does email etiquette inspire life and significance?  Email is communication and communication is relational and good communication goes a long way toward success and healthy relationships! Here are a few suggestions for efficient and effective use of email:

  • Keep it simple and short! An email is not designed to communicate large volumes of information.  The best emails are typically 5-10 lines long.  They are direct and clear about what they concern and only contain the most pertinent information.
  • For the love of God, have a point / purpose for the email and make sure it's obvious!  How many emails have you received and worked your way through only to be left asking “so?”  Emails with clear purpose tend to be responded to faster and are least likely to be ignored.
  • One subject per email - Having one subject per email allows for the recipient and the sender to quickly find related emails on related topics.   This will also help you to have specific subject lines.  This will help with item 2 and the flow of information will offset any time spent on sending other single subject emails.
  • Respond to your emails in a timely manner -  Be sure to respond to emails in fairly short order but many experts suggest setting aside two specific times in our daily schedule to address our emails and this will maximize our performance and efficiency.   The idea being - we can be working on a project or task and as soon as the email notification sounds we leave what we are doing to tend to the email.  The stops and starts reduce productivity and often reduces the quality of thought.

Typically emails are not sent when an immediate answer is required, this is what the phone is for.  There may be those professions however, like sales which require immediate response.

  • Beware of your tone! - Have you ever sent an email and somehow, something in what you have written has offended the recipient?  Likewise, ever receive an email from someone and you perceive “an attitude or tone” which seems aggressive or accusatory?  To help reduce this occurrence choose you words carefully and be aware of any "loaded" words you type.  You will know they are loaded if when you write them you feel a little irritated.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt.  In the end we need to expect those we converse with to be mature people - if they have a problem, they can be mature and deal with it in a mature way instead of concealing it in a passive aggressive way!  If you have a subject that may be a little touchy - maybe an email is not the best way to communicate.
  • Don’t reply in anger. Many of us have drafted artful emails in the heat of anger.  Though often works of literary art and  literary Judo, it is better to deal with these kinds of issues in another way; like face to face.  All of us can be pretty brave through cyberspace but there are healthier ways to deal with conflict!
  • Please don’t forward Chain letters - Yes, some of them maybe cool but in general it is unprofessional and the risk of 7 years bad luck for failure to forward is over-rated!
  • Don’t send anything you’ll be sorry for! That joke may be funny to you but out of context and to the wrong people can be hurtful and may negatively affect your credibility, career and relationships. These include: libelous, defamatory, offensive, racist or obscene remarks or forwards.
  • Praise in emails but criticize face to face.  Email is a great way to give positive strokes to people who have done a good job but to use it to criticize often causes offense and the recipient misses the point!  For difficult issues like constructive criticism email is not your tool.
  • DON”T WRITE YOUR EMAILS ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS! This is akin to SHOUTING and is hard to read.
  • Company emails are not private.  Employers may monitor the content of emails sent and received through their email system.  Personal emails are best sent on a break and from a personal email address.
  • Use a Spell Checker! Your correspondence reflects upon you, your professionalism and competency.  Chronic spelling mistakes don’t present you well!
  • Don’t “copy up” as a means of manipulating. Manipulation is not healthy professionalism in any form.  In CC-ing the supervisor of the person you are asking to do something is often smacking them for something they would probably be happy to do for you anyways.  Lets face it, no one likes it when someone does a preemptive “over their head.”
  • Use a signature with your contact information. This is really helpful as it provides contact information automatically at the bottom of your email.  This saves another email asking you for it.  Some people like to include a little quote - something inspirational at the end of the email.  A nice touch if: it is relevant to what you do, not preachy or offensive, and if the quote belongs to someone else you give them credit.
  • Provide clear options.   If you are asking to set up a meeting it is often helpful to provide two or three possible dates and times.  Or if you have to courses of action based upon another action - clearly define the actions.  For example, "if you have finished the project please email it to me or if you have not, please email me your expected date of completion."  Again these will save you more emails!
  • Proof read your e-mail before you send it.    Check your email for spelling and grammar.  Evaluate your tone, have you made your purpose clear as well as what you are looking for in reply.


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