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Email Mistakes Are Easily Avoided

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on December 28, 2011

I can’t get over how mjuch time I spend reading and writing emails these days.  And I’m not alone.  My clients report to me that huge swaths of their working days are consumed by it.

Whenever a form of communication is relied on this heavily, it’s a good idea to learn what works and doesn’t work in order to keep the complexity down and increase the signal to noise ratio.  And the fact is, too many people make too many email mistakes, and this has influence not only on how they are perceived on a personal and professional level, but also on the amount of influence people are able to exercise on and offline.

Building trust and maintaining respect is fundamental to your success, and there is most certainly both a competitive and a cooperative advantage for the person who uses email wisely.   With that in mind, here are a few email blunders we can all do without.

LACK OF CLARITY

This results from assuming that someone will understand your meaning because you do.  In fact, written communication requires more focus and diligence than face to face communication.  When you’re talking with someone, your words are the least of what you say, and how you say it creates context for your words, provides emotional cues that help you to be understood, and allows for immediate reaction if something you say makes no sense.  But in writing, your words are what they are, and people do what they will.  To prevent this problem, begin with the end in mind.  What’s your purpose in writing the email?  State it up front, or early on.  Then, fill in the who, what, where, when, how and why information, so people don’t have to make stuff up.  Keep paragraphs short, separate out your ideas, and if you’re responding to something written to you, backtrack by leaving those words as a reference point before responding to them.

OOPS, HIT SEND BY MISTAKE

It’s happened to us all.  We addressed a message, then started writing it, and before it was done, we accidentally  (or subconsciously) hit send, and away it goes.  How many times have I tried to shut off the wireless signal just to prevent an accidental send from taking off.
This problem is easy to prevent, and I now consistently use the method I’m about to recommend.  DO NOT ADDRESS AN EMAIL UNTIL IT IS WRITTEN!   That’s write, don’t have anyone’s name in the To: or CC: line, until you’re satisfied with the message you’ve composed.   Even if you hit reply to begin the message, move the address out of the address line first.   Paste it into the body of your email if you’re concerned about misplacing it. Then move it up when you’re ready to send.

C.Y.A. SENDS

Ever get a message that wasn’t for you?  I get them all the time.  The reason I get them is someone put my email address into a recipients list.  And why?  To cover their assets.  When you send an email to a list, you protect the privacy of the people on your list by placing their addresses in the BCC:field.

Now, if you were included in someone’s email list, but the entire list doesn’t need to see your reply, be careful when you hit reply.  If it’s ‘Reply All’ and someone sent openly to a list, you could trigger an avalanche of unwanted emails.   So double check that the message you’re sending in reply goes to people who need to see the reply.  Spare the rest of us, please. And if you accidentally send to an entire list, and only notice it afterwards, you would be well advised to do a little damage control.  Send an apology privately to everyone on the list as quick as you can.

WHERE’S THE ATTACHMENT?

Not sure what else to say, except, if the reason you’re sending the email is to send an attachment, try attaching it before sending!    In fact, try attaching it before composing your email!

NO SUBJECT

If someone started talking with you without first telling you why, you might find yourself thinking about why they’re talking to you instead of hearing what they’re saying.  Well, that’s exactly what happens when you send an email without a subject line.  The subject is the headline, it creates context, it makes it easier to track a thread of correspondence or to identify an important email.  Be brief and be descriptive.  And be sure that your reader is sure about the subject by saying what it is.

WRONG CHANNEL

The fact is, email is a great tool.  But it’s not great in every situation.   Sometimes, when something is urgent, or important, or both, you’d be better served to pick up the phone or get together face to face to have the conversation.  I’m still amazed at how many people I know that don’t read their email regularly.  In fact, if I send a message and don’t hear back, I assume it hasn’t gone through and I make a followup call to find out. Non digital interactions still carry more of a sense of reality to them, and authentic interactions make persuasion easier than without them.  Don’t use email to avoid people.  Use email for brief and factual exchanges or a quick hello to stay in touch.  For everything else, consider anything else: Video chat, phone chat, or face to face communication.

That’s it for today’s post, although I’d love to get a comment from you!

Be well,

Rick

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