The universal adaptation of email, texting and other forms of "instant" messaging has revolutionized business communications. While we can all attest to the terrific ease and efficiency of electronic communications, we also in turn face the challenges associated with it. In response to a reader's request, here are some common email "sins" and guidelines to follow:
Watch Your Tone
The significant disadvantage of any written communication is that you lose verbal and nonverbal clues that would have accompanied the message if it was delivered in person. The "instant" nature of email and texting further exacerbates the scenario by encouraging "instant" interpretation and response. Without the benefit of voice inflection, facial expression, body language, etc., written word requires much more interpretation by the reader to discern the author's true intent. Consider the keystroke "expressions" ( :) :( ;) LOL ) that have emerged to assist in communicating the sender's intent. We must all be vigilant to understand and account for the limitations of written messages - both as sender and recipient.
As sender, be very aware of the "tone" of your message, and do your best to consider the frame of mind or the "Odds Are" of your recipient. First and foremost, if your message is negative or could be interpreted as such, consider other options for sharing your message, such as a phone call, in-person meeting, or video call. If email is your only option, then take the time to first write a draft, set the draft aside, and re-read it before hitting send.
As a recipient, any time you sense anger on the sender's part in an email, break the chain immediately. Again, it is best to pick up the phone or meet in person to discuss the issue. It may not be as convenient, but it can help you avoid costly misunderstanding and larger problems down the road.
"Reply to All" with Discretion
Overuse of the "Reply to All" function is rampant. It also reflects a lack of respect for others' time and has become a leading irritant among email users. Unless there is some relevant reason why others need or want to be copied on your email response, don't hit "Reply All."
Label Messages Clearly
An email should only contain the information that is reflected in the title. If you have three topics to address, send three emails - each labeled clearly. Of particular concern are emails that bury a request or a required action deep in the text. It's an oversight just waiting to happen! If you are asking for or assigning an action, be sure to reflect it in the email subject and then request confirmation from the recipient that she/he acknowledges/accepts the responsibility. You should never assume any task has been accepted until you receive that specific communication.
Keep it Brief
Email is intended to provide fast, efficient communication. The appropriate length for emails is open to debate, but short and direct is the best approach. One rule of thumb is to keep the entire length of the email's text viewable in the Outlook preview window. Here again, the length of your email communications reflects your respect for others' time.
The best way to avoid email abuses and inefficiencies is for the organization to establish company policies that assist good decision making. There are certainly dozens more email suggestions and missteps that could be reviewed, but you can avoid most email faux pas by applying general business etiquette to your email communications.