Effective Communication in the Land of Endless Emails

emailEditor's note: This is a guest post from Kenneth McCall is director of IT for storage.com.

I love email. It gives me a running record of who said what when. I can write a very business-like email even late at night or early in the morning - look how late he's working, impressive! I can give bad news gently without having to actually face the person. I get to use passive-aggressive smiley faces. Guess you'll have that report for me tomorrow instead of today since it's already 5:30? 😉

But even as email becomes more solidified as the ubiquitous communication vehicle in the workplace, there still doesn't seem to be an accepted standard of business email practices. With everyone following their own email instincts messages get bungled, feelings hurt, and lots of time is spent going back and forth to clarify, amend, confirm, and respond. Email is supposed to make work life more efficient, but unless it is used thoughtfully and consistently with effective communication practices in place it can prove a time- and brain-drain instead.

Here are some communication practices you may want to incorporate into your work emails to make sure your message is received effectively and efficiently:

Send only to necessary recipients

You don't want to be that guy whose name shows up in everyone's inbox and no one ever opens it because you send too many unnecessary emails. To avoid a reputation for over-emailing irrelevant materials, email only those who must be included for that specific message. The same goes for replying. It is not necessary to Reply All on group emails. Reply only to those recipients for whom your reply is necessary.

Make your subject line work

Make people happy by letting them know exactly what your email is about. This way they can prioritize it, know what to expect, and know what the urgency level is for responding. Be specific. Good examples: Important Update to Customer Relations Protocol; Mandatory Meeting for Sales Reps Today; Need Your Help to Plan Conference. Bad examples: Hi; Update; FYI; Ideas?; Sales Reps; Meeting; Conference; Help.

Keep your subject in check

Don't slip extra information into an email that doesn't have to do with the subject line. This information could get missed because it is out of context. Instead, send a separate email with an appropriate subject line to that topic.

Address your recipients by name

Nothing gets a person's attention like calling out his or her name. A guy I know who likes to tell stories calls out people's names throughout the telling as if to be sure they are paying attention. I was playing golf the other day, Dan, and you know what I saw, Linda? An alligator. That's right, Bill. An alligator. Yes, it's annoying in that case, but I will say he does hold everyone's attention. So start your email by addressing your recipients so they have their ears perked up ready to give full attention to your message. This is especially helpful later in the message with action items for more than one person. For example: Linda, please call corporate by noon tomorrow to get the latest numbers. Dan, review the site analysis one last time and then send to Acme Printing to make twenty copies.

Keep the tone professional

Recently I was in the position of having to break the news to an employee who works remotely that she had made a pretty big mistake. Her response was OMG! Texting acronyms should not be used in a professional email. Younger employees may need a crash course in professional communication, so to avoid unprofessional text talk in company email consider giving new employees a list of email standards.

Let clarity be your guiding force

Even though a friendly demeanor is always appreciated in the workplace, err on the side of cold clarity over casual banter in emails. If your message is cloaked in jokey or chummy language, it will lose its effectiveness. Make your message clear by using specific points broken into small paragraphs with white space in between so your points are quickly and easily digested by your recipient. Be concise so that extraneous stories and wordiness do not detract from your message. If action needs to be taken by the reader, make sure the action is clearly identified as such and is clearly and specifically spelled out, including steps and deadlines if appropriate.

Attach first

Get in the habit of attaching proper attachments before you write your message so that you don't forget to attach before sending.

Think twice about humor

Like a lot of people, I have a sarcastic side. Sometimes it comes across playfully in emails, but sometimes it doesn't and instead of looking witty I look like a complete jerk. So much of humor and jaunty sarcasm depends on body language, and when your only recourse for body language is using those emoticons I mentioned earlier you're a bit limited. So instead of sharing your snarky personality with co-workers via email, save it for the water-cooler when they can tell by your physical demeanor whether you are serious or teasing. Teasing tones are best left out of email, especially work emails. They can so easily be misconstrued and sometimes in an effort to correct them we can put our feet even further in our mouths.

Proofread

Avoid all opportunities for co-workers or clients not to take you seriously and dismissing your message as a result. This includes using correct grammar, spelling, and writing that is clear and concise.

Hopefully these tips will help you love email, too, or at least keep your inbox a little less cranky. When email becomes unwieldy or underlying negativity seems to be lurking between the lines stop the madness of that particular exchange. Pick up the phone or even go see the person face-to-face. The human voice is a powerful thing: it cuts to the chase and keeps folks honest. No matter what mode of communication you are using, always be clear and be respectful or people's time and efforts and your co-workers will be receptive to your message.

Kenneth McCall is director of IT for storage.com. He builds the systems that help customers find the best self storage units for their needs. Through Kenneth's and his team's work customers can find self storage in Philadelphia and other cities. In his spare time, Kenneth likes to bike and participate in outdoor activities.

* Images courtesy of ksablan

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