I wanted to share with our readers some e-mail tips that have helped me to improve communication.
1. Know your audience. If a client only gets e-mail y Blackberry, stick to simple yes or no questions. They are unlikely to read a long message.
2. If you must CC the world, make sure you are sending only what they need to know.
3. Avoid long forward chains. When someone sends me a forwarded, forwarded, forwarded message, I need to read from the beginning to see what is going on. If you need to send such a long string of back and forth, clean it up. Everyone does not need to see all the header info on every message, nor do we need to see all the people who were copied on every message. Stick to the facts.
4. When you reply to a long message, such as a message containing many previous messages, delete everything but the info you are responding to. The e-mail message takes up the same amount of space, but it is much easier to follow.
5. Return receipts - this is usually a global setting. I never agree to the return receipt.
6. Watch your words. Written communication, as can be the case on these forums, stands a good chance of being misconstrued. I often write an e-mail, read it to myself, then rewrite it to make sure things are crystal clear. Sarcasm which usually get ignored in a phone conversation can be misinterpreted when written, unless followed by a smiley face.
7. When sending a web link to a non-web-savvy person, include directions of what happens after the jump. This goes back to knowing your audience.
8. Follow the same rules as in written communications. Avoid run-on sentences. Avoid endless blocks of text - use line breaks, bold, italics or lines to separate ideas or topics.
9. Establish an e-mail protocol with clients.
I'm sure everyone has their own system. There are always exceptions and special circumstances.
Let's hear yours.
Regarding 3 & 5...
on 3...be sensitive to politics you're not aware of. In big corporations--like the one I work in--long email threads and who said what are vital part of the hierarchy, and since communication is context dependent, including who said what to whom and when is vital. It is also often a type of "power play." In other words, be very careful what gets removed because if people start comparing emails with what they said and when, and you're the one who made the "edit," you're the one who looks a bit silly.
on 5...again, return receipts are important so that someone cannot say I didn't receive the email. It's also a way to communicate the urgency of something and it is also a CYA situation. I would encourage you to start sending return receipts when they are requested. It let's the sender know "the receiver has it all under control, and I have nothing to worry about, because the email didn't get sent by mistake to some other person or filtered accidentally by a bot." I agree in principle that RR need to be reserved for very important topics, and should therefore be followed up with a phone call. RR's for every email are "crying wolf."
My wife sent an e-mail to a girl in my office. In her reply, the girl wrote "I resent that e-mail". My wife was horrified that the girl felt resentment over the original message. A phone conversation followed and the girl was actually saying that she re-sent the e-mail to someone else. Remember "My Cousin Vinny". Reread your mail before sending and look for ways to ephesize for a correct interpretation on the other end. Punctuation is key.
We also practice this when we put scripts in the prompter.
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Emotional context is everything. Know your audience and don't take chances that a tossed-off casual remark will be taken the right way. Worse, your message is out of your control after sending, and some third party may REALLY not get your references and take them wrong.
Emoticons are great for helping to prevent this, but in some contexts are too casual, even though they are useful guides to context.
I would say, if the communication is formal enough, and the recipient senior or unfamiliar enough that they might be thrown by emoticons, then edit yourself to be more clear and literal, right from the start, and don't put in the colorful phrases or asides. Keep it very literal, like when writing assembly instructions.
Mike writes -
Watch your words. Written communication, as can be the case on these forums, stands a good chance of being misconstrued. I often write an e-mail, read it to myself, then rewrite it to make sure things are crystal clear. Sarcasm which usually get ignored in a phone conversation can be misinterpreted when written, unless followed by a smiley face
my entire reputation on Creative Cow and other forums is based solely on the above paragraph. (are you an idiot, or what !).
:) does that really fix what I just said !
nice Bob. :)
All good advice. Except I subscribe to the philosophy that if an email is longer than 3 sentences or asks for an answer to more than 1 question, most of your recipients don't read beyond the that first point or question.
We regularly send emails to clients asking 2 or 3 numbered questions. 8 emails and three days later we might have our questions answered. As my partner says to all the employees in our office that just LOVE the anonymity and lack of accountability that e-mail affords: "pick up the damn phone and call them!"
I find that many people have the attitude that "hey, I've sent an email, I've covered my ass, now the issue is in the other person's court." They don't consider that maybe the other person is in meetings all day without access to email, or that perhaps the email was filtered and never received. That good old-fashioned telephone is still a wonderful office tool!
I admit...I LOVE email because it forces me to "think" through my follow-up notes to meetings (which I always send following client meetings); it forces me to read and re-read shot lists and shooting schedules; and the biggie, it leaves a glorious paper trail that no-one can dispute when something goes wrong and blame starts getting thrown around like mud slung in a pig pen.
Magnetic Image, Inc.