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5 ways to avoid email disasters


January 8, 2013

If you’re like most people, then you probably have a love-hate relationship with email.

On the positive side, email makes it easy to communicate to a large number of people quickly, or to connect with that hard-to-reach client or boss.  And, admit it:  You’ve probably been secretly relieved to deliver tough criticism about a project or missed deadline in an email, rather than having that awkward conversation face-to-face.

But PR pros often complain that they’re chained to their email.  According to Palo Alto,Calif.-based technology research firm The Radicati Group, the average business executive sends and receives an estimated 110 emails per day.

And the errors, missed signals and hurt feelings caused by one click of the “send” button are even worse than the volume of emails.

Improving your email communication can strengthen your business relationships, not to mention help you avoid unnecessary stress.

Here are five tips that you can put into action today:

  1. Read your email out loud. If your message sounds nasty or sarcastic when you read it out loud, then the person on the receiving end might think so, too. How many of us have received a terse email from a colleague or client that we’ve read and re-read, then shared with a trusted friend/spouse/partner to dissect?  You don’t gain respect by hurting someone’s feelings or making them paranoid because of a few choice words in your email.

    Bottom line: If you don’t mean to come off harsh, then soften your language.
     
  2. Make sure that you’re sending the email to the right person. There are far too many examples of people writing a “I-need-to-get-it-off-my-chest-and-vent” email about the litany of sins from their awful client or horrible boss, only to send it to their client or boss accidentally.

    The auto-fill feature on email programs like Microsoft Outlook are less horrifying but potentially more damaging. So as you’re starting to type “Jane Smith” from Client X, “Jane Smythe” from Client Y pops up instead. It isn’t a big deal if you’re sending headlines from a media search, but what if you’re sharing confidential documents, like a draft of an earnings release or primary market research? You’ll have unhappy clients, and unhappy bosses.

    Bottom line:  Your best bet is to always leave the “To” and “Cc” fields blank until you’ve written and proofed your email. Then — and only then — include the intended recipient(s). Triple-check that you are sending your email to the correct people. It’s OK to be paranoid about getting this right!
     
  3. Understand that you don’t need to “Cc” the world. Ah, the dreaded carbon copy. No one seems to have data on how many emails we receive that we’re only Cc’d on, but it’s sure to be substantial. While some workplace cultures err on the side of Cc’ing almost everyone on most emails, you should try not to do this.

    It’s even worse when the email chains start. Sometimes a single email generates what could have been a 20-minute discussion. If you don’t have to Cc many people on that kind of back and forth, then don’t. Trust me, they will thank you for sparing them. If the subject matter is important enough, then set up a meeting to discuss it in person.

    And, please don’t Cc everyone with a reply-all, thank-you note. We understand — you’re polite!

    Bottom line: Be respectful of people’s time. Ask yourself why each person is receiving your email — that will help you weed out extraneous folks and boil it down to those who matter. 
     
  4. Remember that less is more. Call it simplicity. Call it parsimony. Call it a love for the concept of  “less is more.” But whatever you call it, remember the old adage: Keep it simple, stupid.

    If you don’t need to re-hash the play-by-play of a project or a summary, then save everyone the headache of receiving a dissertation in their email inbox.

    Bottom line: Know your audience. Keep the important details in your email, and lose the fluff. Except under rare circumstances, you should use email to communicate quick information exchanges, not for multi-paragraph explanations. If it takes more than two minutes to read your email, then you need to edit it.
     
  5. When in doubt, pick up the phone or talk in person. Sometimes, you need to communicate unpleasant news — one of your staff members botched a project, for example. Or maybe you have a difference of opinion with a spirited colleague who just sent you a message, and you’re not sure how to respond without sounding defensive.

    Whatever the reason is, you may have a gut feeling before you press the “send” button that your email may cause more anguish than necessary — or a tit-for-tat with a co-worker that you’ll waste your next hour on. So don’t send that email! Pick up the phone or walk to their desk and deliver the news in person.

    Bottom line: If you think that your email will make someone upset or cause confusion, then don’t hide behind your computer. The personal touch makes all the difference.

Michele Baer Michele Baer is founder and president of Baer Consulting Inc., an award-winning healthcare communications firm. She is also an adjunct professor of communication at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.
Email: michele at baerconsulting.com



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