By the time you have read this blog, your in-box will have new mail. Some of it will be for you, some of it won’t, some of it won’t be clear if it’s for you or not, some of it will be important, good chance most of it won’t. All of it has to be read, noted, forwarded, deleted, answered and filed. It all takes time.
Used well, email can be rewardingly effective and efficient. Used poorly, it can be the source of more miscommunication, discord and wasted effort than a family Christmas.
Your recipients (“CC” and “Send”)
If you are cc’ing someone, they shouldn’t feel the need to do anything other than read the mail. If you are “sending” the email to someone, they should expect to have to do something as a result of getting the mail. If you expect everyone to do something (e.g. submit ideas for dealing with a shifting deadline), avoid “cc” altogether and include them all on the “send” line.
Make it specific to the recipient. Nothing makes an email less appealing than generic subjects like “important information” or “Today” or “you’ll should read this”.
Outcomes and Deliverables
Make it crystal clear what the recipients are expected to do with the mail and when it should be done by. Keeping emails short, succinct and clear is paramount if you want people to read, understand, and act on what you write. One theme per mail is a good rule of thumb. Use bullet points to drive efficiency and brevity.
Tone and Clarity
Email is one-way communication; once we insert opinion or subjective content into an email, it becomes more likely that our recipient will misunderstand meaning and intention. As writers, we have to put down words so they will be clearly understood, so there is no room for doubt. The recipient is tasked with interpreting the written word as it was intended. Never an easy match-up. Stick to the facts wherever possible, and hold the opinion for the meeting.
Email, phone or face-to-face?
If you think that the content of your email is difficult to put in written format, or could be misunderstood, consider picking up the phone or holding a brief meeting first. This way, tricky issues can be discussed and agreed upon without the need for endless back and forth.
Unlike a conversation, email leaves a trail. The written record of what you wrote can end up in the wrong hands. Worst case scenario, it can be used in court (or in your office) against you. Be sure that you would be comfortable with anyone reading your mail, as you never know where it will end up.
Spell-check and Editing
They might not say it to your face, but people will judge you if your mails are littered with errors.
Summary and Clarification
Email is best used as a summation or clarification tool. After a meeting or a phone call, email is a simple and effective way of documenting deliverables and action items. This reduces the possibility of misunderstanding and provides a record of what was discussed.
So, what next? Take 5 minutes and critically analyze messages you send and receive. Are you saving or spending time? What could you be doing better?
We all use this method of communication so much, we owe it to ourselves to use it well!
Action: Next time you send an email, consider the subject line. Does it help the recipient to understand the purpose of the email, or is misleading. We all have an obligation to maximize that valuable asset called time. Make email your friend.
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Suzanne F Stevens, is the Chief Edge Optimizer of the Ignite Excellence Inc. Group of Initiatives. As Keynote Speaker, Trainer, Coach, Host and Philanthropist, she inspires, develops and invests in people to push their edge to personal and professional potential from backpack, to briefcase to boardroom. As a trainer, Suzanne’s influential business communication training arms individuals and organizations to influence, differentiate and engage more people and more business. Visit igniteU – online influence university. Self-paced business training for career growth!
Visit our other Ignite Excellence Group of initiatives’ websites with corresponding blogs.
Suzanne F Stevens – Profiling women leaders who have pushed their edge to personal or professional potential from backpack to briefcase to boardroom
igniteU – Online influence university. Self-paced learning to develop your business skills for your business success.
Ignite Excellence Foundation – Leadership, Advocacy, Education – following donations to scholarships for women in developing countries
Wisdom Exchange TV – A forum where women will be inspired from the achievements of African women in business, education, philanthropy and politics.
You Me & We – a husbands and wife’s journey through Africa in 2011/12
Ignite Excellence Inc. – Influence, Differentiate, Engage more people and more business – a training & development company