Geoffrey Fouracre Email 101

23 Jan Email 101

Emails are a bit like people. They have their good and bad points. At its best, email is a great means of communication; short, sharp, convenient and quick. At its worst, email can cause misunderstanding, fail to communicate emotional nuances, and by can irreparably harm a reputation or a relationship.

As a leader I have a principle that I try to abide by; if there is something important to communicate, I don’t do it by email! I find emails can be great for communicating data and facts but highly ineffective for communicating about more complex issues.

Communication is usually a good thing and (generally speaking) the more communication the better, provided the communication is positive and understood and appreciated by the other party. However, when we use emails it is important to observe common sense protocols that allow us to maximise the benefits and avoid the negatives.

The great advantage of email’s convenience is also its greatest shortcoming. Relationships can be easily damaged by too much haste and too little thought before pressing ‘send’; and we’ve all done it!

I offer the following “common sense” guidelines for using emails;

  1. Emails should not be used as the principal means for communicating about urgent, critical or complex matters. It is always best to speak by telephone or in person. Such an approach allows for the frank, honest and open dialogue necessary for clarity and understanding of complex issues. One minute spent on the phone can avoid hours spent sorting out misunderstands.
  1. Don’t expect the person at the other end to instantly respond to your email. As a school principal, it was not uncommon for me to receive upwards of 200 emails per day. I found that if I was to answer emails immediately I would do nothing else! It is wise and courteous to allow a reasonable time for a response.
  1. Always take time to reflect upon the tone, timing and content of an email before it is sent. Emails written in haste or in anger rarely help to sort out issues or problems. As a rule of thumb we should ask the question “Would I say this to the person face to face?” A poorly written or emotionally charged email will almost always have the opposite effect we were hoping for. Too often, harshly written and ‘angry’ emails result in later regret.
  1. Ensure that you have made contact with the right person to address your particular question or issue. Take time to research who your email should be directed to. This will help both you and the person opening your email.
  1. Emails are a quick and convenient way of communicating “good news”. Why not use emails to send messages of encouragement and support to those you work with, and especially those who work for you. We all appreciate it when a colleague (or client) takes the time to communicate their thanks and encouragement.
  1. Unless you are waiting for that urgent email, try to restrict checking email to a small number of set times per day. For example, I check my emails upon arrival at work, around the middle of the day and at the end of the work day. Remember that each time you check the inbox you are switching your attention and breaking your concentration from the task at hand.

Email is a convenient way for busy people to communicate. Make email work in your favour!