Contributed by Sharon Haver, Senior Consultant at 4CTechnologies
Do you consider yourself an effective electronic communicator? Do you wonder if people value your written word? Or, do you type an email like you tell a story and send an instant message that’s flooded with so many details the important content is lost? In today’s fast-paced workplace where getting to the point is priceless, your co-workers will appreciate you making good use of their precious time, especially when it comes to the mundane task of reading emails and exchanging instant messages. These 15 steps will have you writing more effective electronic communications in no time:
1. Include a specific subject line. Don’t take the subject line for granted! It’s an important part of your email communication. Keep it clear and concise. It lets your recipients know what the message is about before they even open it, and also helps them locate the email easily in the future.
2. Keep your message short and sweet. Your message will have a better chance of getting read in a timely manner (or at all!) if it’s succinct and to the point. When recipients are crunched for time, your long message will get put off until they have time to process it—which may not be until the end of a long day when sharp thoughts are at a minimum. A wordy message often sinks to the bottom of the heap! Good communicators express their ideas in as few words as possible to avoid confusion and get their point across.
3. Make it meaningful. Even if your company allows use of their systems for limited personal use during downtime, be thoughtful. The number and importance of these messages may not be appreciated if you’re sending unsolicited jokes, thoughts for the day, gossip, cartoons, etc.
4. Report the news. Anticipate the recipient’s questions and answer them within the first couple of sentences. Who? When? Where? What? Why? How? Avoid unnecessary fluff.
5. Avoid creating large distribution lists. If a large group of people need to see what you have to say, post it in a forum, place it in a repository, etc. If the information resides where your audience may not see it, sending a link may be the next best solution. Large distribution lists allow lazy users to avoid having to think about their intended audience. Users get inundated with irrelevant information and tend to ignore your future messages.
6. No exclusions. If a message was sent to multiple people and you need to add to the discussion for everyone’s benefit, don’t be afraid to use Reply to All. If you omit recipients on follow-up correspondence, you’re now creating bad feelings by dropping people from the conversation.
7. Think twice before you Reply All. On the flip side, if a message was sent to multiple people and you only need to respond to the sender, simply Reply. Don’t inundate everyone with information they don’t care about by using Reply to All.
8. Go green. Avoid printing whenever possible! You’ll be able to keep your communications better organized.
9. Watch your tone. Keep in mind that sarcasm doesn’t translate well from the spoken to the written word. Emails can also be forwarded, so if you think your email may go on to another recipient, consider whether they will take your comments in the same light as the original recipient. You don’t want to offend someone even if you were only joking.
10. Avoid unnecessary attachments. It takes extra steps and time for a recipient to open and read an attachment. If your recipients need to make changes to a file, then it often does make sense to attach a file. (Even then I would suggest the alternative of a data repository, which contains a single instance of the file and makes updates to reflect edits from multiple sources). If you can avoid attaching the file to the email, your administrators will thank you for not clogging up the works with multiples of the same file—and it will be easier for you and the recipient to keep changes straight.
11. Reply without the attachment. If you come upon a message that contains an attachment and you need to send a reply, carefully consider your options. If you’re not altering the attachment in any way, why include the attachment in the reply? All it does is take up valuable file storage space.
12. Limit graphics. If your recipients aren’t customers and there’s no need to make things pretty…then don’t! Every fancy graphic, signature, disclaimer, etc. is an unwelcome space consumer in a mailbox that has limits. Internal emails
13. QUIT YELLING. Avoid using all caps: it implies shouting! It’s also more difficult to read typed letters that are all the same size, so give your readers a break.
14. Be mindful of Big Brother. Your communications while using company resources (network, machine, etc.) are company property. Unless your company policy allows it, messages that are personal, not work-related or highly confidential should not be exchanged using company resources.
15. And, lastly, use your common sense! If an email gets the better of you and stirs up passionate feelings (for better or worse), take some deep breaths and proceed with caution. Hasty replies can be dangerous! You can’t “undo” once you send, and the great thing about electronic communication is that is does give you the luxury to think about your words before you use them.
If you follow these steps, you’re well on your way to being a highly effective electronic communicator. That skill will make you more productive at work and beyond, and you’ll find people paying more attention to what you say and how you say it!