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Email communications cause unanticipated problems. I remember one flurry of emails that was started because of a typing error – people got upset and started calling each other names in follow-up emails.
Here’s some tips for better communication via email:
Read the entire email – Sometimes people only respond to the title or first sentence of the email without reading it all. The person may have started with the problem and then come up with suggestions or solutions in the remainder of the text. They will also have to email you again to have you respond to what is in the remainder of the text. This is a waste of time and frustrating, so read it all before responding.
One topic per email – I know it is easier to keep typing and add another issue on an existing email. However, the second point can get lost, and the resulting email trail is confusing because readers often aren’t sure which of the points you are talking about.
Use bullets points – If there is more than one point in the email, make it easier for the reader by using bulleted lists to highlight the different ideas.
Use the telephone – Sometimes the issues are too complicated for an email. Pick up the telephone and have a discussion. Then follow-up with a summary email of the discussion so that there is a record of what was agreed upon.
Summarize actions – You won’t have to guess what the follow-up actions are in emails from me. I list them at the bottom of the email under ‘ACTION’. Be clear so that everyone knows who is doing what, and by when. Don’t assume people understand the next steps.
Don’t make assumptions – Emails can easily be misread. You could assume the person didn’t care about the issue because the email was short. Or you could assume they have a bad attitude in general. Have a discussion with the person if you are unclear about their attitude, but don’t jump to conclusions.
Confirm receipt – To ensure the sender knows you received the email and had no further comments, respond with “got it” or “thanks.” Don’t keep the sender hanging waiting for you.
Email communication is important, but can easily be ineffective. Use these tips to improve your email communications.
Read more about communications: Is your communication style causing more problems than you are solving?, The lost art of listening, What I learned about communication from a photography course, & Feedback is a gift
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