The Building Blocks of Business and Personal Success

Posted on: 30 Jul 2010
Link: http://empoweringabc.com/2010/07/30/e-is-for-e-mail/

The Building Blocks of Business and Personal Success

Posted on: 30 Jul 2010

E is for E-mail Effectiveness 101

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E-mail is such an important part of day to day business for so many people that it’s hard to imagine working without it. It’s vital for communicating with just about everyone: customers, employees, partners, vendors, you name it. Many people prefer communicating via e-mail rather than by phone because it lets them manage their time better.

But have you ever sent an e-mail and been frustrated to receive a reply that didn’t answer your question or address your concerns at all?

Looking at it the other way, have you ever received an e-mail where you couldn’t figure out what the other person needed?

Let’s face it. Working people are busy. Some people get inundated with several hundred e-mails every day, and that’s legitimate e-mails demanding their attention — not junk. It’s very easy to spend a big chunk of your work day just going through e-mails, and most people have other job functions they need to take care of as well.

Did he even read my e-mail?

I started using e-mail in the late-80’s. First I used it for personal correspondence with family and friends. Years later I entered a job at a large global financial corporation, but I brought my old e-mail habits with me. That’s where the frustration began.

“Hi! How are you doing? It was great having lunch with you the other day. By the way, remember the project we were talking about? Well, I was thinking that…”

For about half a year I would often get replies to my e-mails where it seemed like the other person hadn’t read it at all. If I had a question, it went unanswered. If I needed a decision, it wasn’t made.

Many replies I got were short — sometimes just a single word. “No.” Err… “No, what?” Which part of my e-mail are you replying to? So off went another e-mail asking for clarification. It was frustrating… and probably for the other person, too.

It took me a while to figure out that it was my writing style and the length of my e-mails that were my problem. I was writing to business colleagues and my boss as if we were old friends, often taking a while to get to the heart of the message. It was very ineffective, so I changed my style and things improved dramatically.

Effective E-mail Writing 101

I’ve seen a lot of new people come into companies and run into the same problems I did. Companies spend a lot of money on training new hires, but I wonder how many organizations include “How to write e-mail” as part of the program? I wonder how many colleges offer courses on e-mail communication, and if they do how many people enroll? Maybe part of the problem is that e-mail is such a fundamental part of communication today that we assume everyone knows how to do it — and do it well. Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Here are some tips I’ve gleaned for writing effective e-mails in a business environment.

1. Respect the other person’s time. Keep your e-mails succinct and to the point as much as possible. Best to save the small talk for lunch or after hours.

2. Let the person know what you need within the first 2 lines, then explain if necessary. Common (wrong) e-mail writing style tends to explain a situation first, and end with the main point or question. “Blah, blah ….. blah, blah. That’s why we are asking you to increase our budget.”

It is usually scarier to come right out with your request, but it gets the readers attention and if they want to know the “why” then they will read the rest of your e-mail.

3. Keep your e-mail to just 1 question/point if possible. If you really need to ask several things, I’d limit it to 3 in a single e-mail and Start off by saying how many questions you have, then clearly number them to avoid confusion.

“I need you to answer 3 questions:
1. Who should…
2. Where is…
3. When are…”

4. If your e-mail aims to persuade rather than ask, bullet points with clear headings help get your message across.

“There are 3 reasons why this is our best strategy:
Cost savings. Adoption will allow us to reduce…
Response time. It will enable our service reps to…
Metrics. The system provides accurate…”

5. Don’t be afraid to prefix the subject with “URGENT:” when it’s really necessary. But don’t do it too often, or you’ll be blacklisted for crying wolf.

If it’s not quite urgent enough to use URGENT:, you could clearly state in the first paragraph that you need a reply by a specific date and time. “Please reply by 5pm on Wednesday.”

6. Speaking of subjects, give your e-mails meaningful subject lines. In my early working days, I probably sent my fair share of business e-mails titled “Hi” or “What’s up?” Now I cringe anytime I get such a message in my Inbox. Better to let the other person know what the mail is about as they scan message titles.

7. Don’t expect an immediate reply. Give the recipient some time, maybe even a day or two or three for really busy people. Because e-mail gets delivered almost immediately, it seems like a lot of people expect a reply immediately. But one of the great things about e-mail communication is it allows people to manage their time more effectively. Give the other person some time to respond. It’s common office courtesy.
But if you really need a quick reply then see #5 above. Or you could pick up the phone and call them. 😉

If you think I’ve missed anything, please share your ideas using the Reply area below.
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This entry was posted on Friday, July 30th, 2010 at 11:04 am and is filed under Business, English, Personal. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.