Email etiquette… lest we forget

iStock_000008146908MediumWhen email was a new thing, there were a lot of etiquette tips flying around as we all learnt (sometimes the hard way) about communicating sans body language. These days, we’ve all got it worked out, right?

If a recent email ‘conversation’ about a touchy family issue has taught me anything, it’s that some of us still don’t get it. And even if we do, it’s good to be reminded…

Keep it simple

Concise, clear, need-to-know – that’s the key to any communication. How many emails have you received where the vital information is buried in shovel loads of unnecessary stuff? So don’t hit send until you’ve read through and edited your email.

Stay cool

Email ‘yelling’ is a very uncool. You probably wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) do it to the person’s face. So LOSE THE CAPITALS,  inflammatory coloured fonts, and (a new one) long paragraphs in bold italics. 

Rapid response

Responding promptly to emails shows respect. Even a quick ‘I’m onto it’ or ‘got it, thanks’  let’s the sender know you’re following up or you received their email or attachment. The alternative is a ‘blank look’ and nobody likes to be ignored.

To CC or not to CC

Keeping people ‘in the loop’ is great if it’s really necessary. But you risk  desensitising them if you go crazy with the CC option – and they may overlook an important direct email from you later.

Nothing to hide

Consider why you’re blind copying someone into an email. There’s a difference between hiding something, and protecting someone’s privacy (such as sending to email lists). A good rule of thumb: if you can’t openly copy someone in on an email, don’t copy them in at all.

Last in, first out

Always respond to the last email in the conversation first, because the older stuff may have already been sorted. But do skim over the email trail before asking a question that may already be covered.

Talk to me

If we use it well, email is a convenient and fast way of communicating in our busy lives. But don’t give up on that quick call or a face-to-face chat, which will often get things sorted faster than a bunch of emails back and forth. It’s how we used to roll, back in the pre-email days…

Is it time to change your act?

copyright: Louise RalphI was playing charades with some friends recently (okay, some of us never grow up). Apart from us all rolling around in fits of hysteria, it was an interesting insight into human nature.

Someone would get up to perform their charade and, after the usual ‘third word, two syllables’ mime routine, they’d launch into vigorous actions, most of which nobody could decipher.

They might be acting out the Sound of Music, but we’d be convinced they were channeling the Karate Kid while washing their car.

But instead of changing their actions, they would keep repeating the same thing…over and over again. As they became increasingly frustrated, those same actions just got more expansive and frantic.

By the time they’d dropped to the floor in exhaustion, we were convinced they were trying to be a wide-mouth frog washing an elephant.

It made me think about how we communicate – in business and in our personal lives. When was the last time you paused and actually checked the way you communicate? Is it working, or are you going through the motions, getting increasingly frustrated because you’re not ‘being heard’?

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Evaluating communication takes time and effort, but it is vital if you want to get a return on your (financial, emotional or physical) investment.

Now is a great time to look at what works and what doesn’t – and take a fresh approach to your communication in the new year.

But I have to go now. I’ve just been asked to act out ‘photosynthesis’. Tip: Avoid playing charades with scientists or children.


“The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”

George Bernard Shaw


Another dragonfly flashback: First published in The Buzz, our e-newsletter (2006).

Are you getting your message out there or in there?

What’s your approach to communication? 

If your communication plan is focused on getting your message ‘out there’, you’re not alone. It’s easy to gather ‘hit’ stats these days, so we’re starting to believe a hit equals being heard.

We even measure media campaign success rates by the number of centimetres a story got in the newspaper, divided by something to do with ad $$$, times the… What’s that about?

It’s time to take the road less travelled when it comes to communication… and think about how to get our messages ‘in there’. Because (to really mix metaphors) using communication tools as a battering ram isn’t a good look.

And keeping ‘at it’ won’t make an impact, especially if what we’re doing is telling people what we want them to know.

Photo: freeimages.co.uk

Photo: freeimages.co.uk

Why isn’t anyone listening?
T
he trouble with communication is that people aren’t computers. We can’t put data in and expect a certain result. The way people behave, what they need, and why they ‘buy’ are more complex than the connections on our motherboards.

So if we want to do more than just get our messages out there, we have to take a good look at the market, who our clients and customers are, what they’re buying, and why.

Who are you talking to?
Think about Richard Branson’s fresh approach to promoting and running his airline. He succeeded where other ‘budget’ airlines had failed. Why? Because he knew exactly who he was talking to. And it wasn’t business class fliers.

Virgin was all about getting more average income earners in the air. And it started with a client-focused approach to communication.

What’s in it for me?
What will your product or service do for your client? Think benefits. Compare a Virgin ad to one for 
another airline’s business class. Different audiences… very different benefits.

Client benefits are about feelings and needs. Looking good (to peers, shareholders, clients, friends), working smarter not harder, being seen as ethical and (these days) green, being more profitable, saving time, being instrumental in getting the job done (…and therefore looking good), and more.

What is it that will make our existing or potential clients/customers listen and act on our messages?

A new way of talking
It takes a lot more thought and it’s not an easy process. Most of us are locked into just getting our messages out because that’s where our bosses or clients see value for $$$ – and it’s a hard habit to break.

It’s like learning another language. We have to take small steps, do the groundwork, and practice, practice, practice. And it helps if we can get others understanding and using the same language. 

Changing our language might help change the way we approach communication.

Because the companies that know how to get their messages ‘in there’ are the companies that succeed.

 

Adapted: Article first published in the Dragonfly Ink’s e-newsletter, The Buzz, in July 2008.