I am fascinated by how bad, “competent” people are with e-mail.
I subscribe to the view that, how you do something, is how you do everything. How we interact with people long term signals who we really are. Plus, we all judge each other on visual, verbal and written cues consciously and importantly, sub-consciously.
Firstly IMHO, e-mail is to be avoided as much as possible. It is not an effective communication medium. I think at best, it is an information transfer system.
Secondly, to quote my daughter when I asked her to e-mail me from university, “Why? Only old people use e-mail”. So whats going on here? IMHO;
- there are different skill sets and generational attitudes towards e-mail;
- e-mail can be used as an avoidance tactic;
- e-mail makes it easy to be a passive aggressive, beta level person or even worse, a bully
- e-mail can be used as a passive aggressive “cover your ass” tool when everyone from the president down is copied in. We have all heard the excuse “but I copied you in…”
- e-mail makes it too easy to say things we are not brave enough to say face to face, see #3 above
If we really must use e-mail, I think these are the key principles:
- Only say in an e-mail what you would say to someones face.
- If you want a conversation, pick up the phone, Skype or visit in person.
- Use e-mail primarily to transfer information, do not have conversations via e-mail
If we have to use e-mail, I do not care how educated you are, these are, IMHO, the rules:
- Only send e-mail to one person, no multiple TO”s.
- Keep CC”s on a strict “need to know basis”.
- No BCC”s, this is a snide move.
- ALWAYS have an appropriate subject line.
- If appropriate put in subject line “NNTR” (No Need To Reply)
- Close communication loops, if a question is asked or something is hanging, close the loop or just acknowledge the e-mail.
- Be, concise, consistent and professional.
- Max 3 short paragraphs, if more is needed send a memo or pick up the phone.
Finally, to avoid abusive use of the CC line, I advise telling people what I tell everyone who works with me. “If you CC me I will 100% not read it, I might quickly scan it but, I will file it for future reference. If you want to ask me to do something or want me to read your e-mail it has to be addressed to me directly with only relevant CC’s”.
All this sounds like simple first year college stuff, right? If it is simple why are so many people awful e-mail users?
Do not mistake e-mail for documentation management or communication, it is neither!
Bottom line, yes I am old but, IMHO, everyone should avoid e-mail.
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