Emails are a very fast, cheap and universally accepted mode of communication. As you work with and lead teams you will find yourself using emails more and more. Writing professional, effective and impactful emails is a valuable skill to have.
Recently, I was one amongst four managers who got an email with a voicemail attachment. The text of the email read, “John will be late to work today – flat tire. Details in the attached voicemail”.
The simplicity of the email, the crispness of the message and the thoughtfulness of reference to the attachment for details (if needed) made the communication very effective, in my mind.
This made me think about the effectiveness of emails. In my experience I have received and sent numerous bad emails. Over time I have learnt, and here I list eleven things to note while using emails.
1. Email is not instant messenger. Always allow sufficient time for a response. When sending to someone outside your city, allow (as a worst case) a few days – they could be out on vacation. While emails are delivered instantly, the recipient may not read them that quickly. So for emergency responses, use the phone, not email.
2. Never ever send an email in an agitated or turbulent state of mind. Write it, by all means but do not send. Sometimes I have composed as many as five drafts before sending the last one out, the next day! A regrettable email once sent, can cause a lot of damage. It is best avoided. It is amazing how a night’s sleep not only brings out more clarity of thought, but also helps with finding alternate ways to word the email.
3. Be careful of reply all, blind copies and forward. A “reply all” with the number of mail recipients going off the box and the text of reply something like, “me too” of “I can imagine” adds no value. Also, be very careful of forwarding emails. The original sender may construct the email differently when sending it to others.
4. When you receive an email with multiple people listed in the “to” section, check to see and understand why they are all included. Sometimes the list itself tells a story and you can find out some facts just by looking at the list. For example, in the latest “reply all”, was a new person added, or was someone removed; if yes, then ask why.
5. Very easy and quick to send a wrong message and that too, to a large number of people. I have seen many cases where someone accidentally hit “reply all” and the message was conveniently, cheaply and very quickly sent to some unwanted people. Even professional email marketers can make such mistakes.
6. Email is NOT private. For that matter, any information sent out on the web would be incorrectly assumed to be private, even though many tricks have been used.
7. As you compose the mail, if the text flows off the screen, i.e. it goes below the fold, pause and consider if you should attach a document. Anything more than two or three paragraphs and you will lose the attention of your reader. If you must write a long email, use “scannable” sections. This will make it easier for the reader to scan these sub-sections and get an idea of what the note is about.
8. At the same time, email is not twitter. There is no 140 character limit. Sometimes I see cryptic emails with no salutation or opening, no proper explanation and an abrupt ending. To come off as more thoughtful, respectful and structured professional, practice writing an email like a letter.
9. As a matter of habit, I compose emails without the recipient’s name in the “to” box. This prevents accidental dispatch of an incomplete or worse, unedited mail. Only when I finish composing, reviewing and spell-checking, do I insert the recipient’s name(s). Any attachments should be made in the beginning itself, lest you forget (I tend to do it quite frequently, and then have to send another one, with “oops” in it).
10. When asked a question via email, answer the question first. Then go into the rationale for the answer, or the explanation of the situation. This allows the receiver to know the answer and quickly move on. He/she can read the explanation if needed.
11. Emails lack tone. Be careful of using humor and other emotions in email. When you can pull it off, it feels great. But the probability of goofing up is high. I keep it professional and avoid any attempt at humor in email.
Do write in with your thoughts, and any experiences, either worth emulating or avoiding.