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Now that billions of e-mail messages are traveling the Internet every day and instant communication is only a click away, you might think that e-mail is the most effective, modern-day answer to all workplace communication. But that isn’t always the case.
Assuredly, e-mail has transcended communication barriers of time and distance and provided an instantaneous medium to deliver messages near and far. In fact, many may consider it along with the computer as the best revolutionary workplace communications vehicle—even surpassing the telephone. Today, employees find it nearly indispensable to all types of work tasks and responsibilities.
No doubt e-mail can be a tremendous time-saver, but it can also be an annoying time-waster. What causes employees to shudder at the sheer volume of e-mails they receive—for some in excess of 100 plus each day? Why are electronic mailboxes clogged with often too lengthy messages and e-mail trails, many of which are quickly deleted by the recipient or filed away in a folder for later reading? Why do some recipients spend more time than needed to read and understand convoluted e-mail messages?
In today’s workplace where time is at a premium and business demands are multiplying daily, employees are frustrated when common e-mail blunders hinder their work productivity. To sharpen your e-mail skills, avoid these five common blunders:
1. Writing in fractured, or abbreviated, English — Though e-mail invites spontaneity, when business e-mails contain abbreviated words and emoticons (symbols or letters in place of words, such as u for you, b/c for because or $$$ for money), it is difficult and time-consuming for the recipient to read the content. Write out words in full, proper form in business e-mail to create a professional image and favorable impression—even if you use shortcuts in personal e-mail and instant messaging.
2. Using incorrect grammar and punctuation — Readability studies show that it is much more difficult to read a text block without proper grammar and punctuation. Run-on sentences (two complete thoughts not joined by correct punctuation) and sentence fragments (an incomplete thought that stands alone) are two prevalent e-mail errors. Recipients often spend more time trying to decipher the messages so that they can understand them before responding. Also, careless grammar and misspellings detract from the sender’s message and leaves the recipient with a less than positive impression.
3. Writing lengthy e-mails — Brevity is essential to writing effective e-mails that get straight to the point. If you want your recipient to read your message, write an eye-catching subject (entry) line and a maximum of three short paragraphs in the body text. Anything longer should be put in an e-mail attachment. And, remember to use good judgment and caution when sending lengthy e-mail trails. They often discourage the recipient from reading your e-mail and sometimes contain unnecessary or irrelevant information. No one likes to scroll down more than one screen page.
4. Sending blanket e-mails to large groups of people — Frequently, e-mails are sent to many people who may ask, “Why am I receiving this?” “Am I supposed to respond to this?” Only those who need to know or who need to take action should receive e-mails. What has become an irritating workplace problem is that too many people are either being sent an original e-mail or are copied on an e-mail for no good reason. Have you seen e-mails where whole departments are the recipients? Instead, ask yourself, “Why am I sending this e-mail to him/her?” If you think it is justified, then proceed. Otherwise, streamline your distribution list.
5. Using e-mail to convey information of a confidential or sensitive nature — Because of the inherent cold nature of the e-mail medium of communication and the opportunity for breaching confidentiality through forwarding messages to others—often unintended recipients, it is always best to avoid using e-mail to transmit information of a confidential or sensitive nature. For example, don’t use e-mail when conveying job performance evaluations; dissatisfaction with employee work behaviors or with clients or customers; personal information; or even emotion-based messages. E-mail is also not a communication medium for two-way exchanges for negotiation, problem-solving or decision-making. Face-to-face is the still the ideal communication for these, followed by telephone communication.
Joan Matochik is president/owner of JM Communications, which specializes in professional development training in the areas of customer service and oral and written communications. A professional speaker, writer and trainer, she has been in business for more than 20 years.