By Greg Dardis/Consulting
Have you ever sent an email, only to realize you forgot to state a meeting’s date, failed to include your supervisor or misspelled a co-worker’s name?
These faux pas are embarrassing, take time to correct and could ultimately affect your company’s bottom line and your reputation. Quick, convenient and ever-present, email is the most common form of written business communication. Its perks are also its perdition, however, as they can lead to poorly-constructed or hastily-sent messages that harm company relationships.
Consider last year’s cautionary tale when the leadership of a financial services company accidentally sent an email announcing the termination of one employee to the entire company. In other cases, professionals have lost jobs over emails with inappropriate content, personal insults or sensitive material sent to an unintended audience.
Each email you write has the power to boost or debase your central idea. A message can easily tumble from a straightforward explanation to a convoluted ramble. To make your email more effective, keep these tips top of mind the next time you open a new message:
1) Be clear and concise. Journalism 101 students learn not to “bury the lede,” or inadvertently hide a story’s key sentence in the third or fourth paragraph. The same goes for email. Start with a specific subject line. In the body, make your point right away, using complete sentences with simple and direct language. Too often, we treat email as conversation and write flowing, steam-of-conscious prose. Don’t. And never tuck anything important, like a project deadline, in a postscript.
2) Format matters. Use bullet points. Break up paragraphs. As needed, bold or underline crucial information, such as key statistics or dates, to direct the reader’s eye. You format letters to make them easy to follow, so apply those same principles to your emails as well.
3) Keep it short. According to a 2012 report from McKinsey Global Institute, office workers spend 28 percent of their workweek reading and responding to email. Help, don’t hinder, others’ time management by sharing only necessary information. When briefing the boss, there’s no need to detail the entire history of a decision. Rather, skip to the crux: Here’s what we decided and why and here’s what we need from you. Make that last point clear. Too often we finish reading a message, only to ask ourselves, “OK, now what does she want from me?”
4) Apply the headline test. Would you want what you wrote to appear in the company’s newsletter? If not, delete. Email is not private communication. Once you hit send, your message is beyond your control and lives on forever; any recipient could pass it along. With email, you must be a defensive driver; don’t depend on others to protect you. Choose words carefully. A phrase that sounds clever and cheeky to you may come across as snarky or sneering to someone else. Never fire off an email when angry or say something you wouldn’t say in person and in front of your boss. Same goes for Facebook and Twitter.
5) Reread twice. Are spelling, punctuation and grammar correct? Did you make your point? Is your listed recipient your intended audience? (Did you click “Reply All” if you only meant to reply to one or two people?) Is your attachment included? If your message seems too long and cumbersome to proofread, it’s probably too long and cumbersome to send. Checking your message for errors not once, but twice, prevents careless mistakes.
6) Know when to pick up the phone. Sensitive or complicated situations should be handled by phone or in person to ensure all parties are on the same page. Some things, such as personnel conflict, should not be documented via an unprotected method like email. (Again, apply the headline test.) The same goes for good news. An in-person affirmation is more meaningful than a banal “good job” in typeface.
In 2011, the typical corporate email user sent and received about 105 emails each day, according to research conducted by the Radicati Group. That number was expected to rise to 115 this year.
Successful professionals always take a careful approach to internal and external company communications, and email is no exception. Keep these tips in mind whenever you open a new message or hit reply and you will easily sidestep common minefields. Beware, vigilance is imperative: Email is immortal, for better or worse.
Greg Dardis is founder and president of Dardis Clothiers, located at 805 Second St., Ste. 3, in Coralville. For more information, visit dardisclothiers.com.