Communications Review: Are You Sending Effective Business E-mails?

Here to Stay

It’s safe to say that hard-copy interoffice memos are passé; as they’ve long since been supplanted by the ubiquitous e-mail.  The functionality of e-mail allows us to stay in touch with our customers, suppliers, and team members with a significantly lowered cost and increased speed over traditional snail-mail.

business-emails-keyboard_envelope_email-keyE-mail also ameliorates some of the challenges of communicating through international time zones.  For example, your location in New York likely makes it difficult to speak at will to your partners in Japan or Australia, in real time.  Yet, through e-mail, business associates from remote locations can communicate with greater ease, as well as speed.

On a social/personal level, most have forgone the traditional e-mail in favor of texting and other instant messaging platforms, yet in the business world, there remains a certain sense security and formality to an e-mail message.  The ability to encrypt messages, attach confidential documents, schedule messages for later dates, track message arrivals, receive automatic receipt notices when your message has been opened, and correspond with several parties at once, makes e-mail a standard choice for almost all types of business communications.

Best of all, e-mails leave an undeniable electronic “paper-trail”, complete with time and date.  If the need ever arises, you can follow all of your correspondence paths, and even review earlier messages without first needing to file them somewhere physical in order to search and recover them, or any other sort of complex action.

It’s unmistakable that the advantages of e-mail in the business world are immense.  For better or worse, e-mail is a vital part of our culture’s communication method, especial in the business sector. As it won’t be going away anytime soon, be sure you are using it to its full and most effective advantage.

Here, we discuss some basic, yet perhaps forgotten or overlooked, imperatives which we should all be upholding when sending business e-mails.

Good vs. Bad

Succinct Communication

William Shakespeare once wrote “Brevity is the soul of wit”, yet seemingly, many neglect this concept.  Self-importance is hardly a reason to pollute your communications with effects that only you want to hear.

One Question Rule

Ask one question (or two, closely related questions) per e-mail.  Is your e-mail program set up with only an INBOX, SENT and TRASH folder?  Chances are, you have folders for people, various sub-topics, accounts, projects, and so on.

The individual who sends out an e-mail requesting a response regarding the latest financial report, the date of your next golf outing, when you’ll be sending over your new hire assessment, as well as the results of the most recent customer survey, may have a difficult time getting a timely (or complete) response from his or her recipient(s).

Even today, many  individuals feel they are doing their associates a favor by condensing a myriad of issues into one e-mail message, when, in fact, they are actually obscuring the significance of the most important matters (i.e., financial report) while reducing the chances of a timely response on any of the other less pressing questions (i.e., golf outing).  Categorizing questions – even if it means sending an extra e-mail or two – will allow recipients to easily organize topics, better dedicate their responses, and reply in a more timely and thorough manner.

Efficiency

While you should never use the subject-line to type out the bulk of your e-mail’s text, this space should definitely not be ignored or disregarded.  If you must send out a general reminder notice to your group, you can save everyone time by including the brief details in the Subject-line.  E-mail-Verload Solutions offers this helpful list of frequently-used e-mail acronyms to simplify and improve the effectiveness of your subject-line.

The Mechanics of E-mail Construction

Before you begin, you should be able to answer these two questions:

  1. Why am I writing?
  2. What do I expect to gain from this e-mail?

If you cannot definitively answer these questions, don’t send an e-mail.  A nebulous intent before you begin writing makes it almost certain that your message will not be clear.

Remember our friend Shakespeare above, and build your e-mail so that it is brief, functional, and respectful of your recipient’s time.  A template can also be quite helpful.  This particular blog at myenglishteacher.eu offers some extremely useful e-mail templates based on the subject and type of message you need to send.

However, regardless of your e-mail’s topic or intent, there are some basic guidelines which are generally applicable across the board.

  1. Use the name of your recipient(s) in the salutation.
  2. Include a pleasantry to set a congenial mood. (For example:  Extend your congratulations on a recent promotion, or express gratitude for an effort on your behalf.)
  3. State your request or issue as clearly and concisely as possible.
  4. Follow your request with a specific action to take, and then welcome the recipient(s) to contact you for any necessary clarification.
  5. Conclude your message on a hopeful/positive note, and don’t forget to say “thank you”.
  6. Include your closing/signature. (Tip: Be sure your closing/signature is concise and includes your name, title, company name, basic contact information. Use your “settings” function to set up your signature to appear in all newly composed messages.)
  7. Proofread thoroughly before clicking “send”.

When Not to E-mail

business-emails-communication-device-graphicE-mail can have a downside, too.  Sometimes communications require a great deal of detail, which can force you to throw all the conventional rules of a good e-mail out the window, so to speak.

However, when you feel that a particular e-mail’s back-and-forth correspondence is becoming unmanageable, do not be afraid to pick up the telephone, or even better, speak in person, if possible.  Ten or twenty interruptions to your day can be more time consuming than a brief phone call or face-to-face meeting.  You might be able to solve a problem in five or ten minutes on the phone that could have dragged out for a couple of days or more in e-mail.

While e-mail can be an indispensable tool, there will always be times when there is truly no substitute for conversational speaking.  In fact, as this technological age has advanced to a point where many of us are communicating with coworkers and associates almost solely via means of electronic messaging, we have come to realize that a misunderstanding can easily arise for the simple reason that the written word often does not convey the same emotion or intent as does the spoken word; even if the objective is identical.  When texting or e-mailing someone on a personal level, you may include a corresponding emoticon to soften the lines of your message, however, in business, where emoticons are less often used for fear of seeming unprofessional, words can often be misinterpreted.  This article at Fastcodesign.com further describes why certain sentiments can often be misread via e-mails and texts.

The Takeaway

E-mail is a fantastic contrivance, but it is not the ultimate solution to every communication problem.  The average professional can typically encounter up to 100 e-mails per day, and there are times when a brief conversation could eliminate 20 percent of your inbox. Therefore, choose your communication methods wisely, and not solely out of habit.

Conversely, the ability to make your e-mail messages work for you through proper composition, organization, and etiquette, can simplify as well as maximize your interactions with coworkers and associates, while conveniently documenting your exchanges for future reference.  When used effectively, the benefits of e-mail communication truly are invaluable.

Fred Coon, CEO

 

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