Exit the Email Vortex: ten best practices

March 2, 2015 · by Allison Porter · Filed Under Choices, Previous · Leave a Comment

email vortexIt was 6pm and the plane had just landed.  The man next to me opened his phone and scrolled through his email.  [The extra large font and close quarters made it impossible for me to avoid reading it, honest!]  On one of them, he proceeded to type an angry reply, ending with “this is the best you can do, really?!”  Then he scrolled back up to the address line and added in a few more people.  His thumb hung over the send button a few seconds – please, no, I thought – and then he pushed down.  Off it went to ruin someone’s dinner.

Now more than ever, immature and ineffective behavior is being facilitated by technology. People say things via text and email that they would not say in person.  And they do it at a speed that doesn’t allow for emotional control [and rational thinking].

There are ways to avoid these and other painful and costly email faux pas. Here are ten best practices to keep you out of the email vortex:

1. Keep messages brief and to the point. Make your most important point first, then provide detail if necessary. Edit for brevity. Respect others’ time.

2. Make good use of the subject line. Use the subject line to clearly state the point of the email and what action is required. As an email chain evolves, change subject line to reflect content.

3. Respond within 24 hours. Responding once or twice a day is sufficient, unless there is an urgent need. Let someone know if you can’t respond and when you will get back to them.

4. Don’t hit “send” in anger. Communicating hurt, anger, frustration or disappointment via email is a bad idea. Wait for the emotion to subside.  Self-manage.

5. Explain yourself by phone or in person. If someone replies to an email and has clearly misunderstood or disagrees, pick up the phone. Resolve it with the person involved.

6. Don’t assume confidentiality. E-mail messages are easily forwarded and live forever. Never say things in email that you wouldn’t say to the person you are discussing.

7. Avoid ALL CAPS and unusual fonts – it reads as SHOUTING in one case and unprofessional in the other.

8. Use “reply to all” judiciously.  Your default response should be only to the sender. Copy only those people who need it. When sending to a group, suggest replying to just you.

9. Include attachments. If you need a quick response, copy and paste the attachment into the body of the email. If you are forwarding an attachment, double check that it is there.

10. Re-read your e-mail before you send it. Do this with every. single. message. Our fingers have difficulty keeping up with our brains, and autocomplete is not your friend.

Hopefully this Email cheat sheet will save you and your colleagues a lot of headaches.



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