Some cold facts. E-mail messaging now exceeds telephone traffic and is the dominant form of business communication. A recent Wall Street Journal report indicates that soon employees will spend three to four hours a day on e-mail. Companies often complain that their workers spend almost spend almost half of their day handling e-mails.
There is no denying how important a business tool, emails have become. However if used unwisely this same app can come back to haunt the writer with not so pleasant repercussions involving not only job loss but litigations as well. Therefore it is extremely important that what ever we put in writing, we do so with a good amount of professionalism and forethought. Below are some tips on how to achieve this.
Here we are mostly interested in email as a business communication tool. These points can be/should be applied to personal emails too.
Lets get the preliminaries out of the way. Its totally uncool to show off your bad grammar, punctuation or spellings. Download a copy of Wordweb and fix the hot key. When in doubt, simply highlight the word and use the hotkey to open the dictionary. Using all uppercase letters means SHOUTING and can be offensive. Be concise and to the point.
The Subject field is the window into your email. Have a short subject which indicates clearly what the topic of the email is. Never leave it blank or be misleading in this regard.
3. A New Beginning:
Avoid using previous email for an entirely new subject. Always start a new email for new subjects. Its tempting to find a previous email from the party you want to communicate with, hit reply and start typing about something completely irrelevant to the old email’s subject but avoid it at all cost. New topic, new email should be the credo.
4. Common Courtesy:
Hello, Hi, Good Day, Thank You, Sincerely, Best Regards. All those intros and sign offs that are a staple of professional business communications should also be used in your business email communications. Always have a salutation and sign off with every email.
Use the signature block which consists of credentials like your full name, title, department you belong to and how you can be contacted by telephone, fax etc.
The real world corporate usage of email goes way beyond its primary purpose. In fact, according to industry veterans, the upper and middle managements looks at email as a means to CYA. The phrase “Send it to me in an e-mail.” is uttered far to often not because they need reminding or somehow didn’t hear you just tell them that, but because they want it in writing.
A few funny, interesting, and insightful observations on the corporate email behavior.
“One guy I know is famous for issuing instructions to his staff that range from irritating to ridiculous to borderline actionable. These are done on the phone, because 1) the guy will never put anything like that in writing, and 2) he can draw you in and escalate your time and energy commitment since there’s no clear record of what you agreed to do on the project.
I took to following up his phone calls with a summary e.mail, outlining his demands on my time and effort. He got mad and told me to knock it off, that there was no need for e.mails when a phone call was sufficient, etc. I persisted, prefacing it with, “Just so I have it clear what you want me to do.” He stopped the vampire routine, at least with me.”
“I encourage everyone to be wary when writing e-mails. If your firm ever gets sued, all that becomes discoverable, and attorneys have to read through all your e-mails and documents to look for interesting things. Avoid long threads and stick with short, clear e-mails. Lots of one-liners leads to situations where a vague line looks incriminating when taken out of context.“
“My experience in the defense industry has shown me that long, full-quote e-mails are often useful for defending yourself against another’s incompetence.”
“I would rather have a long chain of evidence that protects me personally, so when the shit hits the fan and litigation starts, I have something to prove that it did not happen due to my incompetence”.
“I avoid e-mail whenever possible, so that when the shit hits the fan they can’t even prove I was in the office.”