Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Proper W@y to Email

Email - the word brings to some people a feeling of utter distaste, to others a happily mindless way to stay in touch with their friends, many of whom hate Email.

I dimly remember when Email was my friend a long time ago. When people actually used it more or less correctly. When it actually saved a lot of time. But now Email can be really oppressive, especially in corporate environments.

The masses got the genie out of the bottle, and now Email is used in a lot of different ways, depending on the person. The problem is that the recipient of the Email is pretty much on the taking end. Whatever anyone wants to say to you, they can, in Email. Some things they are afraid to say and might never say in person or over the phone.

But I’ve rekindled my relationship with Email in recent months. And part of it was remembering what it was originally for, on the business side - messaging.

One’s personal Email is a whole different story, of course.


Now Mr. Tech Manners is not trying to shut out the world. He loves his long notes from friends and family.

But he likes his business mail short and sweet. Simple decisions or updates, with maybe a little extra content, thoughtfully expressed. He particularly dislikes people “thinking aloud” in Email while they figure out why they are Emailing him in the first place.

Mr. Tech Manners fired up his computer and checked his fan Email. He imagined Laura, the one who reads and loves all his articles (and then papers her birdcage with them), as a beautiful brunette who bears a striking resemblance to Natalie Wood. Then, feeling guilty, he tried to think about baseball statistics.

Scanning his in-box he spotted the name of one of his editors in the In-box queue. He opened up the message, the subject of which was “Note”, which he began to read. And read. And read. He began to scan. She at least touched on some topics of importance, before adding another rather extensive update on the novel she is going to write someday, and ended with her typical schmoozy sign-off.

Returning to his in-box, he suddenly he saw a fresh Email from THE publisher. He feared it instantly as grave news. It was very short and just re-confirmed a deadline, but the tone of it seemed very terse. He felt like he was in the bottom of the well being yelled at. His heart racing, he decided it was time for a walk.


Mr. Tech Manners has a few simple suggestions for using Email:

At work, just send a message. If you have some brief content, that’s good too, but it should rarely be more than a screen or two of information. Attachments got a bad name for carrying viruses, but they really are the best way to send long documents or commentary to co-workers.

I think this frees up Email gridlock a little bit, by allowing the recipient to read the full message after they have cleaned up their Email In-Box.

And if you decide to answer an Email on the spot, remember that studies show you will spend an average of 15 minutes on it. That's why, the briefer, the better.

And look for patterns in your Email traffic. Some people write and respond to Emails at a certain time of day, and this is good to know. It helps you time your messages to them.

With regard hi and bye salutations - some people like names in the “To” and “From” spots, others don’t want or need it. Follow the lead of their Emails.

Be careful not to get too declarative in your message. That can read as tension, resentment, or scolding in an Email. Be gentle, but direct.

Just like romance in the office, there are pitfalls to Email. You generally shouldn't mix too much personal stuff into business stuff.

As a final tip, proof read and spell check all Emails. Take a long breath and scan the message through once more for typos or missing words before hitting the Send button.

Now when it comes to personal Emails, write your heart out. Long is good and even rambling is too, depending on the recipient. And if you find yourself Emailing someone and they just don’t respond, don't take it personally, they may be very busy, or not monitoring their Email. Then it’s often best to just try the telephone. It’s old technology, but it still works, at least some of the time.

On balance Mr. Tech Manners really likes Email. There is nothing like getting a great long note from someone close to you. And people are clearer, more articulate, and often more expressive in Email than on the phone, he tells me. I think I agree.

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