Improving Email Communications

The Radicati Group estimated that in 2010 the number of emails sent per day was around 294 billion. This means that more than 2.8 million emails were sent every second by about 1.9 billion email users (almost 30% of the world’s population).

Given this high number of users and email transmissions, one would think that writing, sending, and responding to emails would be a simple act. However, this is not so. Clarity and brevity in email communication is still lacking. Bill Jensen, author of Simplicity, suggests that there is a connection between behavioural communication and “clear” communication. He says that to be effective, communication must convey the following:

  • Connection. There must be a connection to the recipient’s workload (“how is the message relevant to what I do?”)
  • Lists. The email must list action steps (“what, specifically, should I do?”)
  • Expectations. The expectations for success need to be clear (“what do success and failure look like?”)
  • Ability. The ability to achieve success must be demonstrated (“what tools and support are available?”)
  • Return. The return to the person must be obvious (“what’s in it for me?”)

However, even if you do meet all of the above criteria in your messages, there are still things that occur that can drive your recipient “nuts.” Here are some examples of things to avoid in your email practices.

  1. Reply to all. CYA (cover your butt) is a lazy excuse for hitting the Reply to All button. Does your email really need to be sent to all? Think before you act.
  2. Complex issues. Trying to solve complex messages by email does not work. If it is a complex issue that perhaps started as not-so-complex, pick up the phone or call an in-person meeting.
  3. Subject lines. Does your subject line match the body of your email? This has got to be one of the most exasperating complaints about email. Using an old message to compose a new message is ineffective and not changing the subject line is unforgivable. Subject lines need to be concise and accurate because subject lines aid filing and information retrieval.
  4. Cancellations. If you need to cancel a meeting last minute, do so by telephone. Do not email. Do not text. This is a courtesy we would all do well to observe.
  5. Your poor planning does not constitute my emergency. You know the types – they forgot to get something completed and now all of a sudden, there’s an “urgent” email demanding your attention. And if the deadline isn’t met, the finger is pointed at you because they were “waiting” on you to complete a piece of the project.
  6. ALL CAPS or underlines. Do not use all capitalization in email messages because it appears as if you’re shouting. And don’t use underline because it may appear to be a hyperlink.
  7. Original messages missing. Replying to messages and not returning the original thread creates more work for the recipient who is now trying to remember what they wrote. This hinders productivity. Always return the full message thread.
  8. No signature lines. Always include your full signature on email messages. This includes your name, title, organization, address, and phone numbers. This saves time for the recipient in case they want to call you or send you “real” mail.
  9. Too many attachments. If you’re sending a lot of attachments, get permission before doing so or combine the attachments into one document. Or use an email attachment service such as You Send It where only a link will be provided, thus saving space.
  10. Work email abuse. Sometimes people send non-work related email from their work email address. This is not a good practice, since the majority of big companies monitor email.

When writing your next email, keep in mind the above guidelines. And above all else, use common sense and be disciplined in delivering clear and robust messages in as little space as possible.

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