Sunday, May 25, 2014

E-mail etiquette

I like email; don't text me, don't IM me, don't tweet me, don't write on my Facebook wall and don't call me... send me an email.  I like email because it's quick and you are not restricted in size like text message and it is not intrusive like the nagging ringing of a telephone.  Fortunately for me, much of my job is dependent on email (and perhaps it is no accident that I work the type of job that I do).  In a prior post, I discussed the appropriate use of the blind carbon copy (bcc).  In this post I am going to share thoughts and tips in regards to communication by email.

1.  Emails can be forwarded and you never know where your message will wind up.  I learned this the hard way as an intern in the early days of email and electronic billboards.  After one particular lunch at the cafeteria, I thought it would be cute to email a comment about the Chili... later that afternoon, I received a call from IT asking me if I was aware that these comments were open to the entire hospital and asking me if that was my intent... ok, no it wasn't and all of a sudden that cute comment didn't seem so humorous.  Yes, I suggest using humor in moderation... not everyone will share your sense of humor; furthermore, your message may be forwarded well beyond your intent and sometimes routine transactions blow up beyond the usual suspects.

2.  Avoid gossip and derogatory comments in email (after all, that's what the phone's for...), but seriously as with humor, message may go beyond the intended recipient.  You may think little of that little wisecrack until a question comes up down the road and a teammate unwittingly forwards the string with your wisecrack on to someone not intended.

3.  Succinctly identify the action that you want your recipients to take.  Conversely, if your message is informational only, place the recipient on the "cc" (courtesy copy) line and/or clearly let the recipient know that it is "for your information only"..."fyi".

4.  Speaking of "fyi" - use acronyms conservatively.  If you are not 100% sure that the recipient is fluent with your lingo, spell it out.

5.  Use caution and courtesy when forwarding a "stink bomb."  In my world, stink bombs are those message strings that have spanned several back and forths over a course of time by original participants before being punted off to another victim.  I these cases, it reflects both courtesy and professionalism to summarize what has transpired and what is needed by the new recipient.

6.  Include a succinct, but informative subject line.  I regularly receive well over 100 emails per day on the job.  It is extremely difficult to keep track of messages from senders with vague or missing subject lines.  I often see subject lines such as "Need Help"... well that narrows it down to just about anything... almost all the messages that I receive are from people who "Need Help."

7.  Avoid "snap" responses.  In my line of work, I receive messages that aggravate me on a regular basis.  I firmly believe that no one should be a doormat, but it is critical in a business environment to sometimes "kill them with kindness".  When I receive one of these irritating messages, I assess how quickly I need to respond.  I haven't received any where an immediate response was a life or death situation.  Sometimes, it is best to give yourself 15 - 45 minutes or even an overnight before responding.  Better yet, get out of the chair and walk - even if it is a short stint down the hallway.

8.  Read your message, then read it from bottom to top and then re-read it again.  Assess for tone.  Are you conveying information without attitude?  Assess for spelling and grammar.  In this fast paced tech world typos will happen, but multiple grammatical issues reflect poorly - it makes you look uneducated and unprofessional.

9.  Consider a second opinion.  There have been many times that I have written, read and re-read a message and considered it to be crystal clear.  There are times when my message is to be sent to over 1,000 recipients or will be channeled "up the line".  For these times, I reach out to colleagues and teammates for feedback.  This helps to provide multiples sets of eyes and to identify diverse nuances in interpretation and life experiences.