By Tori Aiello, Coach/Trainer at The Speech Improvement Company
I recently was stopped by someone on the street who had participated in one of my email training courses and she said, “You’re not going to believe this but one of my friends was just let go for laying off her employees by email.” I replied, “If only she had taken my email training course!”
Imagine how her colleagues must have felt when their termination notice was communicated via email? Not appreciated. Disposable. Confused. An email disaster like this may sound unusual, but I hear different variations of similar stories in the business world on a regular basis.
Over the past decade, email has become an increasingly important form of communication in the workplace. According to the Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, worldwide email traffic totaled 247 billion messages per day last year. It is projected that by 2013, this figure will almost double to 507 billion messages per day (source: www.radicati.com).
As a communication coach/consultant, I am often asked how email can be used effectively to lead, manage and communicate in the workplace. My overarching advice is three fold:
1. Understand the communication vehicles available to you as a leader/communicator,
2. wisely utilize each of these options in a manner that is appropriate to the message that needs to be delivered and tailored to your audience,
3. follow basic guidelines to model and reinforce professional email etiquette within your work environment.
Effective leaders understand the advantages and the differences between the three main elements of workplace communication — email, telephone and face-to-face/ interpersonal communication; and they utilize each vehicle depending upon the type of message that needs to be delivered and an analysis of the intended recipient(s) needs, bias, knowledge and anticipated reaction.
For example, an effective leader would never use email to communicate a difficult or a confrontational message where tone and intention can be easily misunderstood, causing great hardship for all involved. Instead, a good leader understands that uncomfortable messages are best delivered in a face-to-face scenario where clear two-way communication involving detailed explanations and opportunities for question and answers can facilitate a “meeting of the minds” (or at least a basic understanding from the recipient of what needs to be improved). This approach is especially pertinent to those recipients who tend to be overly sensitive or hold a defensive posture.
Am I suggesting that leaders never use email? Impossible! Besides the fact that it would be unrealistic in today’s work environment, email offers many distinct advantages over other forms of communication in the workplace when used properly. Email is quick, efficient (eliminates “phone tag”), and it is a cost effective option for communicating with colleagues who are off site. Also, there is no better tool for sending documents or communicating the exact same basic message to many recipients at the exact same time.
However, the increase in email communication in the workplace brings with it the need for better understanding and practice of professional email etiquette. And while some may view email as casual communication and treat it as such, I always remind my clients that their emails reflect their professionalism (or lack thereof) and set the tone for how they gain respect, establish trust and manage effectively.
Now more than ever email is changing the dynamics of how we communicate in the business world, and I have found that this type of communication is most efficient and effective when everyone in the same workplace agree to some “rules of the road” such as “Who do I need to cc?” or “What needs to be in the subject line?” or “When is it appropriate to forward?”. In order to achieve this goal, I strongly encourage businesses to adopt, educate and reinforce professional email etiquette. The result will be clear and more efficient electronic communication that increases productivity and camaraderie across the entire organization.