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The Worst Form of Communication

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


The worst form of communication, bar none, is email.

SMS is shorter and quicker, so you would think there would be more scope for misunderstandings, but I don’t. Because when you receive a text message, you know it was sent quickly and you do not expect great levels of care and precision. You expect terseness and you forgive mistakes and careless phrases.

Email is different and the problem is asymmetry: when we send emails we often dash them off, thinking of them as a quick and easy way to get a simple message across – less formal than a report, a letter or even a memo.

Yet, when we receive an email, we are not easily accepting of carelessness and poor wording. We readily take offense at a perceived slight, assuming it was intended or, at best an unintended sign of unwarranted slapdashery.

Consequently, emails cause a lot of unwanted responses from readers who get upset, angry and frustrated.

Remember this: we hardly ever write memos or letters now.

  • So if you are using email as a memo replacement; write it as if you were writing a memo – with just as much care.
  • And if you are using email as a letter replacement; write it as if you were writing a letter – with great care and attention.

Good business email etiquette and practice

Email

Courtesies

  1. Open with a polite salutation. Choose the right level of formality for the situation.
  2. Get their name right.
  3. Plenty of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ will really help.
  4. Close with a suitable thank you, best wishes, regards or yours sincerely.
  5. Include all means of contacting you in your signature and enough information for your reader to identify you, if your name is not likely to come readily to their mind.

Style

  1. Make your subject line count. A good subject line will help readers to properly prioritise your email. A starter like For Action, or Decision please, or Deadline Monday 24 June will alert readers to their need to act.
  2. Keep your messages as short as possible – but never so brief as to seem curt or terse – worse still, if it is too short, it may be misinterpreted by your reader.
  3. Use capital letters only if you want to SHOUT. Be equally sparing with fancy fonts and fantastic colours. Choose a simple style that works well in plain text too.
  4. Grammar, sentences and punctuation are just as important in emails as in letters and reports.
  5. If you want action, be clear about your request.
  6. Numbered points, short paragraphs and headings all make an email easier to read.

Send to…

  1. Think carefully about who needs to get the message and who really will want a copy.  Avoid copies to everyone and cluttering up inboxes unnecessarily. Email unto others as you would wish them to email unto you.
  2. Keep spam, chain emails and unsavoury jokes to yourself. Only forward me something like that which you know I will want to read.

Before Sending

  1. Read it.  Try reading it out loud.
  2. Spell check it.
  3. Check the people it is addressed to are the people you intend will receive it.
  4. Check the attachments – and if they are big consider using a service like box.net.
  5. If it is contentious, angry or otherwise charged, save it for at least 12 hours before re-reading it and adjusting it.
  6. If it is very contentious, angry or otherwise charged, ask a trusted colleague to review it before you send it.

Further Reading 

The Writing Skills Pocketbook

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