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E-mail Etiquette According to the "Esquire Guy"

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E-mail is one of my preferred methods of communication.  Although I'm not sure if it's "e-mail" or "email", but both seem to be accepted and used interchangeably.  I will say that the spell check on this thing accepted "e-mail" and rejected "email" and since I use the former, I'm happy to have it validated by spell check.  I was a reading a magazine and came across the following article: People Are Always Misinterpreting My Emails. What Am I Doing Wrong? and wanted to expand on the thoughts of the Esquire Guy.  There are many ways to communicate and collaborate and in some particular order my personal favorites are:

  1. In person
  2. E-mail
  3. Short Message Service (SMS) or Instant messaging (IM)
  4. Phone

This list is in some particular order because the order may change depending on; what it is I'm trying to communicate, the timeline and to whom.  There are only shades of gray, no hard and fast rules on how to communicate in business.  Assuming in person is not optimal, I prefer e-mail and IM for the following reasons in no particular order:

  • I am a touch typist and while I'm not fast by some standards I'm not slow either.
  • I can collect my thoughts and put them down in draft form to review and edit before clicking "send".
  • Since e-mail is "fire-and-forget" and I tend to do just that, I like having the history to read and remember why I sent it in the first place and if the response still matters.
  • E-mail clients are fast.  I can create filters, rules, and searches to keep me from seeing spam, group and sort messages intelligently, and find what I want by person, date or key words.

E-mail is great for outbound communication, particularly to a group of people.  The challenge with e-mail is using it as a vehicle for collaboration.  Soliciting feedback from a group elicits a string of "reply-all" responses that in turn snowball into more reply-all responses eventually leading to reply-all responses asking others to stop with the reply-all responses.  I believe this counts as a contradiction or perhaps irony since somebody will still reply-all pointing out the contradiction of doing a reply-all asking people to stop with the reply-all.  This is where BCC can come in handy.  If you send the e-mail to yourself and BCC the list, those reply-all responses will come only to you.

I agree with the Esquire Guy on not having lengthy e-mail signatures with superfluous words of wisdom or images.  If you insist on adding a large signature block then delimit it with the standard delimiter per e-mail best practices.  This way the signature may be stripped out.  There really is no need to use any format other then plain text.  Just as you should assume every e-mail will be forwarded and possibly read in a court of law, you should also assume the recipient of your e-mail may not be at a high-speed computer or typical e-mail client.  It's a mobile world and e-mail is no exception.  There are many devices and applications for e-mail communications and the world will be best served if you optimize your message for any and all devices and readers.  I have a laptop, tablet, and mobile phone that I use to access e-mail.  Each offer multiple ways to access e-mail from client applications specifically for e-mail to browser based interfaces.  Here's a comparison of e-mail clients to give you an idea of what's out there, which any of your recipients may be using.

TED’s Curator Chris Anderson has been thinking about the problem and has launched an e-mail charter to bring awareness to the fact that e-mail takes more time in response(s) then to create.  We rely heavily on e-mail, it's our comfort zone.  I'm guilty of it, but I'm trying hard not to be.  Many times e-mail is not the right vehicle for communication.  If you're meeting a co-worker for a taco at lunch, try an IM.  If you want to solicit feedback from a group, try a post.  If you want to crowdsource a paper, try a wiki.  If you want to pontificate, try a blog.  The irony is that while these vehicles reduce the flow of e-mail, they tend to send notifications in the form of an e-mail.  So, while there is and will continue to be talk of banning internal e-mail, it looks like e-mail will remain active for awhile.  Let's agree to do our best to optimize the e-mail experience for all, limit it to useful purposes, and consider other avenues for communications that achieve the same results better, quicker, and cheaper.

2 Comments
Contributor

John,

  I thoroughly enjoyed this post.  Working in the collaboration industry for 7 years has really taught me the value of collaboration tools and when it is appropriate to use each.

While I still use email/WebEx meetings to do the majority of business, I see great value in enterprise collaboration sites.  For one, it captures the corporate memory and knowledge base.  Think about how much information is “living” right now in our emails and on our personal computers.  We really need to move that information to the internal collaboration site.   Plus, when a team member leaves the company so does all their knowledge and resources.  If we were working on an internal collaboration site, that corporate memory would be captured and the team could use it to be more efficient.

To share one of my personal email etiquette requests…if your email is more than 2 paragraphs or the string of replies or reply all is snowballing….pick up the phone! Send a quick IM asking the person if they have 10 minutes to chat, knock out the questions, and reply all with the final and keep the project moving.  Plus it saves everyone on team time because they do not have to read tons of emails to just find out there is no resolution...

Snowballing reply all emails…set up a quick satellite meeting on WebEx, come to a decision (maybe the decision is that the teams need to collect more information before making a decision) and keep moving the project forward.  Meetings do not have to be 30-minute blocks, in fact, in WebEx you can set up a 15-minute meeting. Nice!

It is really about using collaboration tools and changing the way we do business. But it is a workplace culture shock right now and needs to start inside the company with leadership and champions.

Contributor

Thanks for the comment and the additional e-mail tips.  You're right in that one of the greatest challenges with collaboration in general comes down to culture.  My earlier blog post Technology, Culture and Process- Which is Most Important to Collaboration? touches on this point and provides some background on the importance of culture along with the reliance it has on technology and process.

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