“Act in haste; repent at leisure” is the operative proverb for email today. How often have you sent an email flying off into cyberspace, only to realize too late that it:
- Was going to the wrong person
- Conveyed a negative or angry tone that would damage your relationship with the reader
- Contained spelling or punctuation errors that would make you look ignorant and unprofessional
The more time I spend training people in how to use email effectively, the more horror stories I hear and the more likely I am to pick up the phone instead of sending an email.
Every email must be able to pass the newspaper test. That is, as you write your email, visualize it being reprinted on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or your local paper. If you cringe at the thought, don’t send that email. Take it from the countless employees at Toyota, Enron, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and so many others: That little email that you write in the privacy of your office is the most public thing you have ever written and you have no control over when and how it can be broadcast to the world.
Two key points in the writing of every email give you control over the process:
Filling in the TO Slot
If you want to avoid sending the email to the wrong person, do not fill in the TO spot until you have finished writing, reading and re-reading your email. This will raise the likelihood that you will send the email only to the person or persons whom you want to receive it.
Set up your email program so that sending an email becomes a two-step process. Outlook can be set up so that you hit SEND and are routed to the SEND/RECEIVE box, where you have to hit SEND again. Sometimes the millisecond pause is enough to make you think better of the idea of sending that sarcastic missive. Once you hit SEND, that email is gone. Force yourself to think twice before sending every email — especially if you were feeling emotional while writing it.
Another few points to remember:
Never trash another person in an email.
Assume that your nasty note will end up in that person’s inbox within 24 hours — and talk to the people who have accidentally sent their own nasty letters to their victims because of rushing to hit REPLY ALL.
Don’t send emails when you are feeling emotional.
Save it to the Drafts folder. Have someone else read it and give you candid feedback. Take ten deep breaths. If you have been pounding away at the keys, imagining with glee what an impact your words will have on your unwary reader, think carefully. Stop. Look at yourself. Listen to your inner sage and don’t hit SEND.
Proofread every email twice.
Face it: Spelling and punctuation errors make you look ignorant and unprofessional. There is no excuse for them in the days of Spelling and Grammar checking software. However, don’t rely exclusively on software for proofreading. Remember the consultants who sent in a proposal for a “Turkey Proposal for the Pubic Sector”. But seriously, folks, sending from an iPhone or iPad is no excuse. If you’re writing for business, spell and punctuate correctly.
©2011 Elizabeth Danziger
For more suggestions about using email effectively, visit the Worktalk blog postings on Email Land Mines.
Want to have a customized email training for your company? Contact Elizabeth Danziger to learn more. Call 310 396-8303 or write firstname.lastname@example.org.