May 18, 2016 by Jeff Lowen
It never ceases to amaze when someone tells me, “I didn’t get your email…” As if there’s some transport layer protocol monkey waiting in oblivion to swoop it up and steal it away just because it was important! What I really hear you saying is that your email inbox is so inundated with the 15,000 lists you’ve subscribed to, the spam, and disorganization; you didn’t even notice my email above the noise!
No, this isn’t an attack on 99% of people who use email, we’ve all been there and for some reason, the email inbox is a wild animal that needs to be tamed once in awhile.
To be more purposeful with email is a skill all its own, and using it for what and how it is intended can make your life a little easier. Here are some “rules of thumb” to use when communicating with email.
WHEN IS E-MAIL THE APPROPRIATE FORM OF COMMUNICATION TO USE?
E-mail is a good way to get your message across when:
- You need to get in touch with a person who is hard to reach via telephone, does not come to campus regularly, or is not located in the same part of the country or world (for instance, someone who lives in a different time zone).
- The information you want to share is not time-sensitive. The act of sending an e-mail is instantaneous, but that does not mean the writer can expect an instantaneous response. For many people, keeping up with their e-mail correspondence is a part of their job, and they only do it during regular business hours. Unless your reader has promised otherwise, assume that it may take a few days for him/her to respond to your message. At least 24 hours.
- You need to send someone an electronic file, such as a document for a course, a spreadsheet full of data, or a rough draft of your paper.
- You need to distribute information to a large number of people quickly (for example, a memo that needs to be sent to the entire office staff).
- You need a written record of the communication. Saving important e-mails can be helpful if you need to refer back to what someone said in an earlier message, provide some kind of proof (for example, proof that you have paid for a service or product), or review the content of an important meeting, deadline, memo.
WHEN IS E-MAIL NOT AN APPROPRIATE FORM OF COMMUNICATION TO USE?
E-mail is not an effective means of communication when:
- Your message is long and complicated or requires additional discussion that would best be accomplished face-to-face. For example, if you want feedback from your supervisor on your work or if you are asking your professor a question that requires more than a yes/no answer or simple explanation, you should schedule a meeting instead.
- Information is highly confidential. E-mail is NEVER private! Keep in mind that your message could be forwarded on to other people without your knowledge. A backup copy of your e-mail is always stored on a server where it can be easily retrieved by interested parties, even when you have deleted the message and think it is gone forever.
- Your message is emotionally charged or the tone of the message could be easily misconstrued. If you would hesitate to say something to someone’s face, do not write it in an e-mail.
Now, as far as your 3,000 lb. inbox… It’s heavy, I know. Yet, you’ll feel so much better once you delete half of that stuff you receive that you’re really not gonna read, anyway. Delete, file, save… Don’t try to do too much at one time. You’ll end up playing hopscotch with that monkey like I did! I’ve recovered, and now, I can see everything in my inbox on one screen. Aaaaah. 🙂
Now, I always say if you can’t get your point across in a sentence or two, then a face to face or at least a phone call is best, but that’s a soft rule and I realize there are other circumstances. However, try to be clear, concise and succinct, regardless.
Also, be one with the subject line! Be descriptive and clear. For example:
DO: Budget Meeting Minutes 5/15/16 – Need input from participants
DON’T: One more thing…
And for cryin’ out loud, when someone sends you an email that has this in the subject line: “Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Re: Fwd: (Insert anything here)” …Trash it!!!!!! Spammers, hackers and phishers of men hide evil things in here that can do bad things to your day!
Hope that helps!