Have you ever written something not-so-nice about a colleague in an
email? Have you ever hit ‘Reply to All’ when you only meant to hit
‘Reply’? Have you ever thought someone was ‘yelling’ at you because they
wrote you an email in ‘ALL CAPS’?
Most likely at least one of these scenarios hits close to home with
you… probably a little too close to home.
Email has become such a relied-upon business tool that your average
worker would probably wrestle anyone trying to take it from them.
According to industry analyst firm the Meta Group, email overtook the
telephone at least two years ago as the preferred communication tool in
the office. A Meta survey showed that 74 percent of businesspeople said
being without email would present more of a hardship than being without
For IT professionals, especially, email is a critical tool. Industry
analysts are telling IT workers to become part of the business team, to
learn to communicate with co-workers outside of the IT box. Email is a
primary tool for making that happen. That means good email skills could
kick-start your business ties, but it also means that a few bad emails
could tarnish your efforts.
If not handled just right, email can get you into a lot of trouble, warns
Janis Fisher Chan, author of the new book Email: A Write it Well
”When you’re sending an email, you’re creating an image of yourself to
this other person. Sometimes, it’s not such a good image,” says Chan.
”So many people, in this global industry, are communicating with people
all over the world, and they’re projecting an image of themselves and the
organization that sometimes isn’t credible or considerate or polite.”
Chan says workers often find themselves in hot water because they wrote
something snide or catty about a colleague in an email and then
accidentally sent it to the wrong person… or someone, playing political
games, forwarded it to the person you were talking about. Or they might
be in trouble for accidentally putting more information than they were
supposed to in an email, revealing critical corporate information.
These are all email accidents that could cost you not only your
reputation, but your job.
”People hit ‘Reply to All’ and they send messages that not everybody
should have,” says Chan. ”People don’t stop to think that whoever gets
your message can forward it on either accidentally or deliberately.
Things you say about people can be passed on. Trade secrets could be
released. It can land people in court. If somebody feels that something
in an email is libelous, all the disclaimers people put at the bottom of
a message does no good.
”The worst thing is when email is called in as evidence in a court
case,” she adds. ”People don’t realize email is considered written
documents that can be retrieved and used in court. Even if it’s deleted,
it can be found on computers.”
Even if it’s not serious enough to land you in court, Chan says any one
of the emails you shoot off every day could affect the way people
perceive you. And that alone can affect how well you can get your job
done, and if you’ll move up in the company.
”I just got an email from someone I do not know and it was written in
‘ALL CAPS’ and I have this very negative image of this person that he’s
rude and abrupt,” Chan explains. ”He may be a very nice and efficient
man, but that’s not the image I got from that email.”
Chan says a big part of the problem creates bad emails is that people
just don’t like to write. They would rather whip something off quickly
than take a minute to make sure it’s well written, to the point and
heading off to the right person. It’s simply done all too quickly, she
”People need guidance in writing,” Chan says. ”They tend to write
without thinking. They see writing as a chore. They tend to not be clear.
When it comes to email, which is the most prevalent form of business
communication, they bring all of these problems with them. They write
without rereading it. They write things that shouldn’t be written. They
really need help in stopping and thinking about what they want to say,
what information readers need and the tone they should take.”
Here are some of Chan’s tips for writing better emails:
the reader, and should the reader have the message. Is this appropriate
to write? What if this was published in the newspaper?
make sure the message you send is useful. Look at what they’re writing
from a reader’s point of view. We see writing as something we’re doing.
But it’s a communication.
important. Save it as a draft and go back to it the next day and look it
over before you send it.
of this. Sometimes you don’t send an email. Sometimes you pick up the
phone or walk down the hall and speak with someone directly. It’s not
always smart to put something in writing and it’s not always smart to put
something in email. Even a letter is more confidential because people
aren’t as likely to make 2,500 copies and send it out. But with email you
really don’t know where it’s going to end up.
their inbox until it’s overwhelming and then they can’t find messages
that they need. Spend a few minutes a day to clean it up and stay on top
of it. That makes it a more useful tool.
your inbox can be much more interesting than whatever else you’re doing.
You want to check it every five minutes or every time you hear that
‘ding’… but don’t. Don’t be the person in the meeting who has one eye
on his inbox. Don’t let email keep you from getting the rest of your work
done. Curb email interruptions.
anything that could be construed as offensive.