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A CHANGING WORLD
Whatever statistics show, one reality is undeniable: electronic communication has changed the way we exchange INFORMATION with each other; but, most important, this shift has also impacted how we build business RELATIONSHIPS. Therefore, it becomes imperative that we are cautious on how and when we use e-mail because both the positive and negative impact could be greater that most of us can imagine. Here are top ten crucial points to remember:
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SEND
E-mail is the quickest way to send a message but certainly is not PRIVATE and will not get you the quickest response back. Even with the sophisticated “personal/confidential” caveats one may choose in applications such as Outlook, the message can still be forwarded to anyone in the world. Think about someone you respect and tend to be conservative around. Would you feel comfortable having that person READ your e-mail? If in doubt, be safe and do not send it out! Of course, this issue can work for or against you.
A MEDIUM THAT DISTANCES US
E-mail is more like a CONVERSATION than a business letter but without the advantage of having the physical interaction. Research shows that over 90% of communication is non-verbal, and, since e-mail takes that away from the exchange, keep it simple and to the point because anything can be MISINTERPRETED. As a rule, if your message cannot be conveyed in more than two or three sentences, you are using the wrong venue. If it is a longer e-mail, the rest of it should serve as an expansion or explanation of the core.
DON'T LET PEOPLE MISREAD YOUR MESSAGES
Even if you mean well, watch out for the TONE! Since you do not have the benefit of sound, unless you are using a microphone and instant messaging, of course, be conservative in the use of capital letters, colors, and choose your WORDS very carefully.
FROM THE READER'S POINT OF VIEW
Be aware of intention versus PERCEPTION. Most likely, the e-mail will sound how the person would have written it rather than how you INTEND it. The question then becomes: who is my audience? Know the people you are directing your correspondence to and write accordingly. Using the wrong tone with the right person can have disastrous long-term consequences because once you hit that infamous “sent” button, there’s no recall guarantee. In fact...it’s sent!
MISSPELLINGS, WRONG GRAMMER, EQUIVOCAL PUNCTUATION
Anyone can forgive a minor typo here and there, but, if you are CONSISTENTLY sending messages that violate the above, you will develop a reputation for being a poor writer altogether. There is an easy solution for everyday use: turn on your spell checker on Outlook or your other email program. For non-routine use, leverage Microsoft Word as your e-mail editor. Additionally, consider creating your documents in a word processor and pasting your paragraphs into your e-mails. This process sounds like a great deal of work, but when it comes to presenting a PROFESSIONAL image, there is not enough that you can do.
DO NOT USE E-MAIL TO LET OFF STEAM!
As a former therapist, I have to agree that it is very therapeutic to write a response and get ANGER out of one’s system. But, be sure to apply the 48-hour rule. Write your e-mail with no address in the “to/cc/bcc” fields. Let it sit in your draft box for at least two days. Print it out and read it. Show it to someone else whose judgment you fully trust and get feedback. In my experience, most individuals choose not send it; yet, they get the benefit of working through their FEELINGS of anger and/or frustration, and they save themselves from potential problems.
CHOOSE YOUR MESSAGE CAREFULLY
Never deliver UNPLEASANT news over e-mail. Never fire someone or turn down a job using e-mail. Ideally, the first one should be done in person. The second one deserves, at a minimum, a phone CALL (by the way, a voice mail message is as inappropriate as an e-mail).
Use e-mail as a cost-effective way to maintain WRITTEN records. This point is important for several reasons. Electronic communications are now recognized as discoverable evidence, which, in plain English means that they are official documents in cases that go to court, such as wrongful terminations (and related performance records) and discrimination cases. Either way, as long as you ORGANIZE your system well, e-mails can be a wonderful tool, just be careful how you do so because everything and anything you say to your boss about your job performance could become “official.”
CONTEXT IS AS IMPORTANT AS CONTENT
Use the SUBJECT wisely without tricking your reader. Tell them what you want from them, what the e-mail is about, and/or if there’s an action expected of them. Summarize the core in your first couple of sentences, including the most important information first. Then tell the reader how they can get more information –- either through a link or an attachment. Give the individual a CHOICE! This approach shows that you are considerate of the other person’s time, organized, concise, to-the-point, and knows how to communicate what you need and want… all fantastic skills in a competent employee any manager would want to hire!
BE CAREFUL OF SEXIST OR OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE
Though it might sound very basic, I still see correspondence of all sorts, not just electronic, using the OUTDATED use of “he” or referring to racial groups inappropriately. A seemingly trivial error can easily be misinterpreted and transformed into a political debate or battle if seen as an ill-meant statement by a recipient... So, always be safe and NEUTRAL when writing.
GET OFF THE COMPUTER
Use all the wonderful 21st century advances to enhance your productivity but never let these take the place of people interaction. The most important piece of advice I give my participants in my e-mail writing courses: sometimes the best way to communicate is through the e-mail you DON'T send. Take a minute, pick up the phone or walk a few steps to the cubicle down the hall and actually talk to that person. Good old-fashioned human CONTACT will still do wonders for your career... In my view, more than all the technology in the world will ever do!
For almost 20 years, Eugenia has held several leadership and managerial positions creating and heading training, professional development, and human resources programs as well as has consulted for Fortune 500 corporations and non-profit agencies in the United States and Latin America. Her educational foundation includes a Masters degree in Counseling from Seattle University and a Bachelor’s from California State University, Hayward, with a degree in Human Development.
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