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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

No More Email Blunders

How and when to send effective, considerate messages at the office.

No More Email Blunders

Caution: Daily email use could be detrimental to your career.

Yes, wading through a deluge of email is stressful and time consuming. But the real risk, experts say, is that workers – in their rush to control overflowing email boxes – are becoming increasingly rude, dismissive and unprofessional with what they write and how they respond.

“People are forgetting that email is an important communication tool, which can also be very destructive if it’s not handled with care,” says Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, a business communications consultant and author of “Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time.” (Syntax Training, 2014)

Unfortunately, there is no rest for the weary. Multiple studies, including one conducted by The Radicati Group, Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., show that email use in the workplace will only increase in the next five years.

Hence, business communications experts note that it’s critical for professionals to control the destructive power of email and avoid email behaviors that threaten relationships.

Minding the Details

Ellen Jovin, a communication skills trainer in New York City, says emails reach their destinations without the hallmarks of good business correspondence: a clear purpose, logical organization and appropriate punctuation and mechanics.

“Despite the conversational feel of much computer-based communication, email is a written form and should therefore observe many of the conventions associated with traditional business letters and memos,” she adds.

Jovin, who is author of the e-book “E-Mail Etiquette for Business Professionals,” says that because email endures, when handled unethically or haphazardly, it has the power to cause significant damage not only to the sender’s reputation but also to the reputation sender’s employer.

Always keep in mind that business communication is something that requires care, particularly if you are answering emails on the run on a mobile device. Don’t assume that unprofessional responses will be forgiven. Jovin says you should still adhere to the guidelines for appropriate email messages, such as setting up proper signature files, proofing for grammar and punctuation, and so on.

“Minding the details of email shows respect for the reader’s time,” she adds. “If you disregard such details, you will distract from your content.”

Minimizing Destructiveness

Gaertner-Johnston says email correspondence requires thoughtful contemplation, despite the volume with which you might be dealing.

When you compose and click send without thinking, relationships disintegrate, she notes.

“Even if you are typing on your smartphone, please and thanks should not take more than a few seconds each, especially if your phone offers typing-completion suggestions,” Gaertner-Johnston adds.

And if you don’t have time to respond to an email, don’t. Get back to it when you can give it the time it requires. Shooting a quick, thoughtless reply to a message that was crafted with care is dismissive. For example, when an employee spends an hour or more doing research and writing it up for you in an email, don’t respond cryptically in five words or less, if you value the employee and your relationship.

Gaertner-Johnston offers some more do’s and don’ts for handling email:

• Don’t send a confidential email to a printer unless you are within five feet of the printer and can grab the page as the machine rolls it out. Otherwise, that confidential message can become distressingly common knowledge.

• Do copy people on a message only when doing so will lead to something positive for everyone involved: understanding, teamwork, inclusion, enjoyment, shared credit, etc.

• Don’t copy someone’s boss on a negative message or copy someone’s manager to prompt a reaction.

• Do ask tactful questions to understand a situation.

• Don’t scold (or flame) anyone for any reason in email. Because email is not two-way communication, you can’t get instant information from the other person or gauge his or her reaction.

• Do make a phone call to clarify situations or ask about emails that have not been responded.

• Don’t send a message before you have reviewed it for tone and accuracy.

• Do give others the benefit of the doubt. Recognize that there is a good possibility that you are wrong or are simply misinterpreting a message.

• Don’t use sarcasm or inappropriate jokes. Email writers consistently overestimate their readers’ ability to distinguish sarcasm from seriousness.

• Do give others the benefit of the doubt. Recognize that there is a good possibility that you are wrong or are simply misinterpreting a message.