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09 May

When your e-mail isn’t being helpful

Date: 2012-05-09 12:00 Comments: 0 st

I have never encountered anyone who complains over receiving too few e-mails or someone who was unhappy due to e-mails being too short or too concrete.

And very few organizations or companies tell me the communication occurring through CC:-ing is at a reasonable level.

And yet we still choose e-mails before other forms of communication when we could make a different choice several times a day.

And it’s no wonder.

E-mailing is efficient since it enables you to deliver a message to someone who is not available at the precise moment we wish to convey it, and do so faster than by regular mail.

It is much more convenient to send a link than try to put a URL into words over the phone. The e-mail is also much easier to store for future reference than the spoken word.

The inbox – a jungle

But in many of the organizations and companies I encounter in my work, the e-mailing-culture has gotten way out of line, and e-mailing has gone from being a helpful tool to being a source of severe frustration.

The car is also a terrific and flexible tool, only it is intended to aid us in something entirely different – to transport ourselves.

But, you aren’t entitled to put the pedal to the metal just because you have bought a car, and drive according to your own preferences. We have agreed to follow certain rules to make traffic safe for everyone.

Just as we regulate traffic by rules to make it function smoothly, we can define guidelines regarding how to use the phenomenal tool which the e-mail constitutes in order to make the e-mail-traffic within the company more functional; in other words, we can create an e-mailing policy.

If we do this, and agree upon how to e-mail each other (at least within the company), we make it possible for the tool to become truly functional again.

By creating constructive rules we can receive fewer e-mails without receiving less information. We can have more time over for the truly important matters since we needn’t waste energy on hesitating, asking complementary questions or misunderstanding each other, since the e-mails are more concrete and clear now.

Do this

Create an e-mail policy.

  1. Meaning, agree on what you need to do in order to make e-mailing an efficient tool in your particular organization. If you are self-employed you can still create your own policy, make sure to follow it and feel pleased when you notice how your e-mailing etiquette is infectious as others begin to mimic your method.
  2. A good way to get started in the construction of your policy is to narrow down what needs to be regulated in your organization. I have listed the most recurring rules I have encountered in the organizations I have worked with:
    • Expected time to respond to an e-mail
    • Which e-mails that have the highest priority
    • Try to call first, and then send an e-mail?
    • What type of information you never send by e-mail (due to confidentiality, for instance)
    • Link to files or attach them?
    • Change the subject-line if the subject of the e-mail changes?
    • What the signature should contain
    • The appropriate length of e-mails
    • How should you organize tasks and questions? By 1,2,3… and so on?
    • Appropriate greeting- and closing-phrases
    • One subject per e-mail or several?
    • If it is important to have a clear heading and subject-line for each e-mail or not
    • When to send CC:-mail…
    • …and when to use BCC:
    • When to forward…
    • …and how to approach a FWD: you received
    • If it is OK to subscribe to
    • Is it OK to send personal e-mails using the office e-mail?
    • How to act if you should receive an offensive/ racist/ sexist e-mail
    • How to handle a conflict you get into with someone via e-mail. Do you keep arguing via e-mail, do you pick up the phone or should you arrange a meeting to discuss the matter?
    • Should you start a long e-mail with a short summary?
    • What to do when the subject-line begins with Re: Re: Re: Fwd: RE: RE:.
  3. You are fortunate if you are in an executive position of some kind since you have the mandate to push for this matter by yourself. But if you aren’t you can bring this matter onto the agenda in any natural forum for discussion existing in your organization. Highlight whatever issues you are experiencing concerned with e-mailing in your company, and make it clear how things would be different if you had better guidelines to adhere to.
  4. In order for you to never feel as if the policy is just another set of rules you have to follow “because the boss said so”, make it vividly clear what the concrete and positive consequences of adhering to every rule will be. After each rule you could write “, since…” followed by a description of the positive effects it will have. For instance, “Whenever you e-mail, be brief, since this will enable the receiver to handle the e-mail faster and hence be able to send you a reply faster as well.”

Cooperation is key

If you agree upon what to consider when e-mailing, you can all rely on these guidelines in a positive manner in your daily work. Instead of feeling unsure of how quickly a reply is expected of you, you can rely on what you have discussed and act in accordance to that.

Even if not everybody will adhere to the new set of rules all of the time, the part of your work conducted through e-mails will become easier and smoother since more e-mails will be shorter, fewer will be sent as a CC:, a greater quantity will have descriptive subject-lines, and so on.

Since we spend such a large portion of our time “in our inbox”, wouldn’t you also agree that making this part of our work more structured is well worth the effort?

How would you do it?

What e-mailing-rule could you really use at your office? Leave a comment to let me and other readers know.

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