Use EMail to Enhance, Not Hinder Your Communication

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

Today, I’d like to concentrate on e mail.  E mail is a great communication tool when used properly.  However e mail, when used inappropriately can cause more communication problems than it solves.  Inappropriate use of e mail:

·        Can create more work than it saves.

·        Can cause misunderstandings.

·        Can build walls between colleagues.

·        Can erode trust.

·        Can burden information systems.

·        Can slow problem resolution.

Here are some ideas for getting the advantages of e mail as a communication tool, and for avoiding the disadvantages.

·        E mail should not be used as a substitute for face to face conversations.  The tone of an e mail can be easily misunderstood, because e mail lacks the verbal and visual cues of a conversation.

·        When you are in close proximity to another person, use face to face discussion as your main communication tool.  When the other person is at a distance, use e mail as your main communication tool.

·        Communicate urgent message, things that require immediate action, in face to face or telephone conversations.

·        Don’t avoid conversation with another person by hiding behind e mail.  Performance discussions, complaints, problems and issues should be discussed in person, not via e mail.

·        Send an e mail to confirm and/or document decisions made in a face to face meeting.

·        Make sure your e mails are very specific and explicit.  E mail is an asynchronous form of communication, there is more opportunity for miscommunication and misunderstanding.

·        Use e mails to arrange face to face meetings and conversations.

·        It is difficult to collaborate via e mail.  Therefore, face to face communication is best for projects requiring a high level of collaboration.

·        When you are expecting the reader to take action or meet a specific deadline, mention this at the beginning of the e mail, not the end.  Set it off in bold, or on a separate line.

·        Respond promptly to e mails that are requests for your assistance; even if all you say is that you will not be able to provide the assistance for several days.

·        Avoid jumping to conclusions based on an e mail.  Ask for clarification.  Reply by stating your understanding, and ask if this was the sender’s intent.  Better yet, call or visit the person who sent you the e mail.

·        Avoid using the urgent flag – unless the message is very urgent.  I have use the urgent flag on about five e mails the entire time I have been using e mail.  In this way, people know an e mail flagged urgent by me, really is urgent.

·        Spelling and grammar are just as important in e mails as they are in other written documents.

·        Make sure your responses add value.  Avoid sending a response to an e mail, just to be seen and heard.

·        Use the “reply all” button sparingly.  It can burden the information system and load up others’ in boxes with unnecessary information.

·        Copy only those people who really need to know the information in the e mail.  Don’t cc your boss on e mails just to let him or her know what you’re doing.

·        Avoid using the bcc (blind carbon copy) function.  Bcc’s are not an open, straightforward way to communicate.

·        Graphics and fancy e mail templates increase the size of the message tremendously without adding any value to it.  Avoid them.

·        Avoid resending attachments when you reply to an e mail – unless you have suggested changes to the original attachment.  Unnecessary attachments put an undo burden on the information system.

·        Prune your distribution lists.  Keep them up to date.

·        Avoid humor in general.  It often does not come across well to the reader.

·        Avoid inappropriate humor at all times.

·        Do not forward things you find funny.  Your reader may not appreciate the humor – or want it clogging up his or her in box.

These are some common sense bits of advice for helping you use e mail to become a more effective communicator.  In the end though, the best piece of advice is to use your own common sense when you are using e mail.  If you do, you’ll be unlikely to hamper communication with colleagues and customers.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.