22 November 2008

I got an e-slap on the wrist - Ouch!

Some e-mails can leave you with an impression that may or may not be what the sender meant. For instance, I recently received an e-mail and after reading it I felt the person had e-slapped me on the wrist for not following some procedure. The e-mail started out with "Firstly" and ended with "In the future." I am sure you are feeling my pain already...

E-mail has become the most widely used business communication tool and sometimes we are not very smart users of it. An e-mail like the one I received would have been better delivered face to face or by phone in order to get the tone of what the person was trying to communicate.

Why are we not speaking to each other anymore?

An e-mail can be quick and seem easier, but in the long run it can be more frustrating, send the wrong message and if you press Send too quickly it can cause misunderstandings. There are times that I really want a paper trail and e-mail is great for that, but now I stop myself at times when an e-mail string has been going back and forth and getting more complicated with each new e-mail. I stop the flow and pick up the phone. It is amazing how quickly a matter can be handled on the phone or in person.

I also think we are not as bold when speaking to someone in person. When you make eye contact with someone you are generally less inclined to lash out. With e-mail you do not have that personal touch so can write whatever is on your mind.

When you must send an e-mail...

I recently read a post that suggested e-mail did not require the same standards as letter writing and that you could get away with writing less formally by e-mail. Although I understand what she is saying, I don't necessarily agree. If you are writing an external business e-mail, then you should write it using the same care you would when writing a business letter. Spelling, grammar and punctuation should be paid attention to and you should keep in mind the tone of your communcation. Internal e-mails amongst co-workers should have a business tone to it as well, although less formal. The only time I would use an informal writing style would be when writing a personal e-mail to a friend that I know really well or family member (although I am sure in most cases they would prefer hearing from me, but e-mail at least makes a connection in the meantime).

At a recent meeting some assistants were complaining about all the e-mail in their Inbox and how frustrated they were getting trying to manage it all. I am sure we all have the same complaints. I know when I come back from a weekend or a vacation away from the office, I am bombarded with e-mails that I have to plough through. Usually hidden amongst the less important stuff are some really important and urgent e-mails from my boss. I have solved that problem by setting some rules in Outlook that send all my boss's e-mails directly to a folder on its own. However, I still have to go through all my other messages and clear them out of my Inbox at some point and it can be overwhelming at times.

Before sending an e-mail, think carefully about what you want to communicate and re-read it to make sure you are sending the right message. I would also suggest that you ask yourself if the message would come across better in person, especially when we are e-mailing co-workers who are probably in close proximity to where we sit. A good stretch to stop by someone's desk to ask them a question or a quick phone call can save a lot of time and avoid having to deal with another e-mail in your Inbox.

Try not to forget the art of conversation and communicating face to face in your office business dealings. A smile and a pleasant word can go a long way to building a strong team and good working relationships.


Why do we feel we have to immediately answer every e-mail that comes our way? Or, if we don't receive an immediate reply to our e-mail, why do we feel we need to send another one? When I have spoken to people who are extremely frustrated about the back and forth of e-mail, I have to wonder why they felt they needed to answer it so urgently in the first place. Perhaps we put a lot of the stress on ourselves because we feel that every e-mail has to be replied to immediately.

If you were quite disciplined and remembered to turn your out-of-office assistant on and off each time, you could put it on when you are too busy to answer e-mail and let people know that you will get back to them later in the day and if they need immediate assistance to telephone you. You would have to remember to turn it off however when you are back to business.
Sometimes you are in the office, but need a few uninterrupted hours and this would work well for that purpose. Sort of like closing your office door...
When you are away from the office you should always turn your out-of-office assistant on and refer people to someone else who can help. This will let people know you are not in the office, but that all is not lost because there is someone else who can assist them. The same can be said for voicemail. If you are not in, please let your callers know that and refer them to someone else who can help them in your absence.


Take a deep breath, relax and e-mail smart. Let's use the technology we have and make it work for us, not make work for us and please no e-slaps - they hurt!


Anonymous said...

Hi Patricia:
What a great article this is. And, as far as the e-slap on the wrist, I mean, "really".

I know first hand what you mean by the "tone of your e-mail". I had a situation a couple of years ago where I had replied to an e-mail that I had mis-read and that caused a bit of kirfluffle (not sure how spell that). Anyway, it taught me to re-read, more than once if necessary, an e-mail that I think is negative.

I also learned at a "Working Smarter with Microsoft Outlook" seminar that we should not use e-mails as urgent requests. If it is urgent, pick up the phone, or visit the person, if he/she is in the same office. This little tip has been a huge time-saver for me.

I also learned not to open e-mails first thing in the morning, but to clear up any urgencies, or open mail, etc. before opening e-mail while my mind is clear.

Keep up the good work.

Patty Buckner

Anonymous said...

In response to the email comment "why do we feel the need to answer an email/ or get an answer so quickly." One of my biggest pet peeves, is when someone sends you an email then comes up to you, or sees you and says "I sent you an email, did you see it/ read it/ respond to it." If it was that urgent, why didn't you come speak to me in the first place!