Too many emails, too little time? Email provides a beautiful communication medium for business and personal use. However – as with any form of communication –there are many opportunities for miscommunication.
Email can give the impression of being unidirectional. We either focus on sending a message or receiving a message. Proper communication is never a one-way event – it’s an exchange. There is no communication without both parties being able to hear and understand each other.
We must ensure that the messages we communicate are entirely understood. We must focus on the content, the tone, and the setting. As receivers, we must read the news as carefully as possible – not jumping to assumptions about what is being conveyed.
Here are some tips for using email more efficiently and effectively.
1. Organization. It helps to organize your message so the reader can follow it easily. An update on a book club meeting can follow a who-what-when-where-why pattern. For example, “Here are the three action items from today’s phone call,” followed by a bulleted list, is a common way to summarize a business conversation.
2. At a glance. Email readers read quickly and may need to refer to an email for crucial information. If you want your reader to be able to follow your thoughts and identify the most critical information, use headings, bulleted lists, and numbered things. For emphasis, bold and underlined text can be constructive.
3. Guide the reader. Explain why you’re writing this email right away. This will help direct the reader’s attention and let them know what action is needed. Case in point:
Two questions on the Smith project. To start, I’ll fill you in on what’s happened in the past week. Following your brief update, please state the two questions you have for us.
“I’m writing to update you on last night’s Inland Wetlands Commission meeting. We had some interesting discussions which may provide helpful background for your meeting with the Town Manager tomorrow.”
4. Include emotion. It’s human nature to make assumptions and fill in the blanks when communication breaks down. Think briefly of all the different emotions you can use with the word “really.” Really?? (curious). Re-e-ea-lly? (surprised, skeptical). REALLY!!! (indignant). Really. (an agreement based on verifiable facts). The message’s context can shed light on the word’s meaning in those instances. Sometimes words alone aren’t enough; we need to be able to read someone’s body language and tone of voice.
One of the most frustrating aspects of email communication is the frequent inability to detect when someone has misinterpreted your tone. The sender “knows” what was intended, and the reader “knows” what s/he read. They might not realize how wrong they are until much later.
Adding emoticons can be appropriate for some types of email messages; adding emotional words in parentheses, such as (wink), (grin), or (smile), can also be helpful.
Less humor and sarcasm will be used in more severe emails. The use of more pompous language can convey different feelings. “I appreciated how smoothly you ran the meeting.” or “I’m frustrated that you announced our decision before I provided my feedback.”
6. Use selectively. It’s easy to grow used to exclusively communicating via email. Like any other communication channel, it is not always appropriate. Email is helpful for simple questions, keeping in touch, and sending written confirmation of a discussion. Phone calls and in-person meetings are often preferable when a more in-depth conversation, a group decision, the exchange of emotionally charged information, or the generation of creative ideas is required.
TRANSLATION OF MESSAGE
1. Focus. Trying to read email while on the phone, in a meeting, or in front of the TV is not a good idea. If messages must be read before completing another activity, ask for a five-minute break. Equally important — quiet your thoughts. Pay attention to what is written in front of you. Take into account the message’s substance, tone, and setting.
2. Read the whole message. The overwhelming number of emails people receive is a common complaint. However, many communications are redundant. Attempting to skim too quickly, readers often don’t see that all the details they need are provided in the initial message.
3. Reorient yourself. It’s crucial to put yourself into the mentality appropriate to the conversation at hand. Is it bothering you that your kid just spilled his milk? Don’t let that anger permeate a worker’s request for time off or procurement’s recommendation that the RFP be changed.
4. Think before you respond (but respond!). In a quick pace society, we naturally react to emails quickly when a more mindful approach may serve us better. Even if a meeting slot opens on Thursday mornings, is it the best way to spend the day? Perhaps on first read, I don’t understand why you want to invite the engineers to the meeting, but upon reflection on our discussion yesterday, I may think it is a good idea.
5. Use selectively. Just because someone has sent you an email message doesn’t mean you must respond by email. If the matter is intricate, time-sensitive, or fraught with complexity and passion, you might be better off picking up the phone, setting up a conference, or even strolling into the next room to discuss it.
1. Can it be posted in the newspaper? Don’t assume an email is private. Whether by accident or design, email messages can be sent or forwarded to the wrong people. You can print out an email. Emails can be subpoenaed. Be wary of what you put on paper.
2. Would you say it to the person’s face? Many of us are guilty of sending emails containing language we would never use in casual conversation. The message’s tone and content reflect on you, so remember that the person on the other end is a real human being.
3. Reply. Have you ever been frustrated by talking to someone, only to find that their mind is elsewhere…that they haven’t been listening? Sending an email without getting a reply can feel the same! Now you have several questions: Did the email arrive? Did the recipient read it? Was that the information she wanted?
Effective responses don’t always require lengthy explanations. It’s usually adequate to respond with anything like, “Thank you.,” “OK,” “Looking forward to reading the report,” or “I received your application and will be reviewing it over the next few days.” These brief statements can improve understanding and strengthen bonds between people.
Business consultant, professor, and doctoral candidate Dr. Polly M. Silva. She offers coaching, facilitation, and consulting services to businesses and government, focusing on team building, program planning, organizational change, design and evaluation of training programs, helping employees and teams apply training, and enhancing organizational effectiveness.
Polly draws from a solid background of over 15 years of practical experience in new program development, negotiating contracts, designing and managing multi-departmental or multi-agency projects, and designing telecommunications systems. She is an expert in local administration, communications, and healthcare reform. She has been featured in Who’s Who in American Women and has received multiple achievement awards for outstanding performance in management.
Polly is a professor at Texas A&M University, the University of Hartford, and Eastern Connecticut State University, where she instructs undergraduate and graduate students in business and communication. Polly has a Master of Science from George Washington University in Telecommunications Policy and a Doctor of Philosophy from Virginia Tech in Organizational Learning and Development.
Polly also offers individual and group coaching to ABD students. Join us at “Keep the Momentum — a dissertation support group” on LinkedIn.
Interested in finding out more about business or dissertation coaching and consultancy opportunities? Please email me at Power to connect (@)yahoo. Com to arrange a no-cost consultation.
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