By Debra Benton
E-mail provides easy interconnectedness. You can initiate contact with someone you might feel uncomfortable calling. You can keep up low-maintenance acquaintances with little cost of money or time, and you have the best chance of getting a response because it’s easy for them to click and reply. And unlike the phone, which is quick and inexpensive, too, you can provide a rapid response while creating a virtual paper trail. But remember the Golden Online/Offline Rule: Don’t send any virtual message or anything via e-mail that you wouldn’t want to receive yourself. Following are some other key guidelines that may be helpful for any professional who must navigate the virtual world, while ensuring critical relationships and results.
A great way to overcome the lack of connection via e-mail is to establish a relationship, if possible, in person or by phone before using e-mail as your main form of communication. Then, use e-mail when you want to:
Use e-mails to communicate, appreciate, celebrate, elaborate, and collaborate.
The Better E-mails You Send, the Better You Get Back
Choose your e-mail address wisely. Ihatemyboss2@e-mail.com, for example, may cause people to form a different opinion about you than you want. You can have more than one address to use for different purposes, such as business, friends or online purchases. Fully appreciate that e-mail lasts forever and anything you write can, and might, be seen by many more people than you intended. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you have to explain, like a politician’s front man, “You should have quoted what I meant, not what I wrote.”
Don’t type anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want everyone to read, because they might...and even if you think it’s untraceable, the FBI is very good at finding you. E-mails are internationally classified as a legal and binding document.
Consider who you are writing to and why. Sometimes e-mails are to dispense data or solve problems; sometimes to provide therapy and counseling to your workers, sooth bruised egos, or resolve conflicts.
Be explicit with yourself as to your goal, which will translate into a better e-mail, “This is what I want...and this is what I don’t want from writing this.” Be clear in your own mind or you have little chance of achieving your objective in others.
Your tone and choice of words, format, and graphics can be different based on whom you are sending a message to. A bigger font size for easier reading may work better for some people. More or less formality can be called for with others. Using abbreviations and emoticons to convey meaning may be best with another.
To Emoticon or Not Emoticon?
Some 50 percent of people hate emoticons. Some 50 percent love them. Symbols, however, can be misinterpreted. (Well, unfortunately everything can be.) One man told me he used a smiley face as a friendly gesture in an e-mail to a new team member in another country. The recipient was quite offended, interpreting the smile as a smirk. Fortunately the sender sensed a coolness and called to inquire what happened. After a few conversations, the damage was repaired.
As a rule of thumb, if there is more than one emoticon for every five paragraphs, there are too many.
Why Your Body Language Matters on E-mail
Similar to when speaking on the phone or in person, always smile when you type, and imagine the recipient is in front of you. People sense your attitude. Besides, using an optimistic, good-natured, and gracious tone encourages a prompt response. Consider these two out of office replies and which one was likely written with pleasantness and a gentle smile?
“Out of office reply. I will be returning to my office on ___ if you need immediate assistance, please contact ___”
I think option two had the gentle smile.
Excerpt from “THE VIRTUAL EXECUTIVE: How to Act Like a CEO Online and Offline” by Debra Benton (McGraw-Hill, April, 2012).
Executive Coach Debra Benton is founder of Benton Management Resources, whose clients include GE, AT&T, American Express, Pepsi, United Airlines, Time Warner, McKinsey & Company, Verizon, Dell, Novartis, Kraft Foods, and NASA, and individuals from Hollywood to the Washington Beltway. She is the author of eight previous books including “How to Think Like a CEO” and “Secrets of a CEO Coach.” For more information, visit http://www.debrabenton.com.