Effective communications (Email)

Posted on: October 29th, 2013 by Jim

I have heard through students and from reading articles that some people, especially in the millennial generation, are getting away from email. Towards what I wondered. In one article a team member said something along the lines of, “By my tweets ye shall know me.” Well, that’s fine if he can somehow convey information concisely in 140 characters. But for the rest of us mere mortals, I am afraid we are stuck with email for some time to come. So how do we make the best of this beast? Simple. By writing and sending the clearest, most concise messages we can. I find this topic of “how to write good emails” so overlooked that I think it’s worth perhaps a post or two.

What information (exactly) are you trying to convey?

I get emails sometimes and I don’t know exactly what the point is. People are not necessarily well-versed in writing and especially in business writing. So, ask yourself this question before you send that next email: What information do I want to convey? What actions or results do I want? And by when? My students tell me they get literally dozens (if not hundreds) of email per day. Why should they pay attention to yours? What makes it stand out? Is there a timeliness to it? Do they have to act by some X date? Or is it just informational? Put something in the subject line which gives them some idea. “Meeting minutes – action items enclosed,” or “For your information – no action needed.” Give the receivers some idea of the urgency of the note starting with the subject line. And keep it as short and as well-written as you can.  Perhaps have someone review a couple of your emails for clarity before you send them.

One of the problems with email is that often people just don’t respond at all. Does that mean yes? Does that mean no? You should establish in your communications management plan that not responding has no meaning. Or better yet, say in your email something like this:

If I don’t hear back from you by X date, I will assume you agree with the statements below and will meet your action items on time.

You see? You don’t allow them not to read it. And again, you state in your kickoff meeting that you are going to default to this method so they have no reason to be surprised. Yes, everyone has too much email to read. But let someone else’s email fall into the dead letter pile. Not yours.

Next: More about the well-written email.

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