I’ve watched some people struggling with some email blow ups and frustrations over the years and I was just thinking about some of the ways I’ve developed to avoid them. I am not going into the best salutation or the best conclusion but more touchy-feely things. Here are my guidelines:
- Write the email as if it might show up on the front page of the paper tomorrow morning. Because it might. Or it might be forwarded to the wrong person. Or you may accidentally send it to the wrong person. Worse, to a long mailing list of the wrong people. Don’t include anything that you would be embarrassed or worse, ashamed, to have to explain.
- Realize that the other person may not have the same email habits as you. They may only check emails once a day. Or they might receive 200 messages per day and habitually not answer many of them. They might even have a hard time typing (yes there are some.) So don’t be offended when you don’t get a response when you think you should have gotten one.
- Keep it short. People skim and scan. Don’t tell your life’s story. Focus on what the outcome is that you would like of the email you sent and indicate that up front. Or if you don’t expect an answer, then sometimes it is helpful to say that too (“No response is necessary”) Write your email like an article in USA Today. Start with the most important thing and go from there. And make it short.
- Remember that you can call or talk face to face. For most delicate, personal or heavy topics, it is often better to talk. This is self evident and yet I often see people who should know better opting for an email and getting into major fights, misunderstandings or hurt. And even if you go down the email route and things seem to be spinning out of control, remember you can still help by switching to a phone call or face to face conversation.
- Be careful about public forums, mailing list and Facebook. Remind yourself about all the people seeing your sarcastic comment or ironic statement or personal attack. Without the context and the relationship who knows what impression they get.
These guidelines may or may not apply for you. I learned them through personal experience and have the scars to prove it!