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Email Communication Blues | Tips for Recovering Your Sanity

Submitted by  on July 27th, 2010

Email is a wonderful tool. Don’t get me wrong. Our business just could not get by without it. It’s quick, it’s flexible with how you want to format the message and with what you want to attach, and it’s accessible.

What bugs me is the lack of instant feedback. When you speak with someone face to face, you can see immediately if they are getting your message. If they are looking the other way or falling asleep as you speak, you know straight away that you aren’t getting through. And then you can take steps to help your message find its target. You can give the person a nudge or offer to speak with them later when they may be more receptive.

You can also gauge how they are feeling about your message. If they are laughing, then that says one thing. If they suddenly start looking distressed, that says another thing. You can then adjust your message to get the outcome you want.

But what if you send your important email and you don’t hear anything back for three days? Did they get your message? Did they get so enraged by it that they immediately hit the delete button? You just don’t know. What can you do about this lack of feedback?

The first thing I do is to make sure that my expected action is clear. If I want someone to call me, I say just that: “Please call me on xxxx xxxx”. Notice that I even spell out my phone number so that they do not need to go searching for it. If I need the response by a certain date or time, I make that clear as well. Are you making your expectations clear in the emails you send? In spite of how direct my message may be, some people do not respond as I expect. To fix this, what I have been doing for quite a while now is to keep an email correspondence list on the office wall closest to me.

When I send an email for which I need a response, I update my list. I check it daily for who has not responded. If someone hasn’t responded, I send them a gentle reminder. That way, important tasks won’t fall into a black hole, never to be seen again. Don’t do this for every email you send out. Do it only for the emails that are important for you to get a response.

Even after sending several reminders, in some cases I don’t get a response. Oh well! I guess that person didn’t want to carry on the conversation. Those cases are usually where someone has committed to an action that I am following up. My only wish is that those people at least pay me the courtesy of telling me that they do not want to do what they promised. Do you deal with people like that from time to time?

Email is both a curse and a blessing. Which aspect dominates for you will depend on how you treat it. Perhaps by making your emails action orientated and by creating and maintaining a correspondence list as I do you will see more of the former than the latter. What tips can you share for making email more productive? I’d love to hear from you.

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Posted in Communication | Comments (5)

5 Responses to “Email Communication Blues | Tips for Recovering Your Sanity”

  1. Yuvarajah Says:

    Hi Leslie,

    Very true of e-mails. My experience tells me it’s more acurse than blessing !. Some people hide behind the e-mail to avoid confronting F2F. The abusers engage in email war exchanges in ranting, venting and revenging!.

    Then there is the BCC facility to further add to the “politics”. I just don’t understand what’s it for exist?. It only does damage, if the BCC does not keep his lips sealed!

    I still believe technology is designed to help make communication better. But, in e-mails case it does not. I prefer to pick up the phone or meet up.


  2. Leslie Allan Says:

    Hello Yuvarajah. Thank you for your perceptive comments. Yes, I agree. Where dialogue is needed, face to face or the telephone is a better approach. And it’s so easy for some to get into flaming, precisely because of the impersonal nature of email.

    Re BCC, I found it very helpful in some cases. I can’t see much of an application with internal business communications. However, it has proved very useful in legal communications where I want to keep my collaborators in the loop without informing my protagonists.

    I’m wondering what you do when you find yourself at the wrong end of a flame war. How do you handle it? How do you respond?

    Regards, Les Allan

  3. Bernie Althofer Says:

    Whilst various forms of electronic communication may have their time and place, the over reliance on email as a business communication tool can do more harm than good in some cases. Some people can spend considerable time ‘doing their emails’ without having a plan on how to manage them (e.g. checking and responding three times a day). Of course, committing some things to paper (email) can leave a paper trail and as has been seen in some litigation, evidence that is used by and against individuals and organisations. Sending an email to the person in the next cubicle defies logic when face to face communication may be (and is quite often) more beneficial.

    It is also interesting that some organisations choose to send out key decisions or policy changes and expect their employees to read, understand and maybe even comply. It seems that in some cases, human behaviour is such that the delete button is activated when such messages appear. Emails may have their use. However, how they are used needs to be carefully considered. For example, in some cases, some organisations may be bound by various legislation to keep hard and electronic copies if the email makes reference to particular issues. Users at all levels should be aware of the legal obligations, the risks, the accessibility to such communications, and if in doubt, don’t commit the message to paper without knowing the implications.

  4. Communications Forum Says:

    I also think you should plan your day according to what’s most important to you, not what arrives in your Inbox. Email is a tool, but sometimes it seems like people are too reactionary in responding to it.

  5. Chris Bennett Says:

    Good tips on email communication. Particular “The first thing I do is to make sure that my expected action is clear.”

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