When done right Email is an effective communication tool
contributed by Valerie Bean (Pickering, ON)
MANY MINOR HOCKEY TEAMS RELY ON E-MAIL for parent communication; broadcast messages keep everyone in the loop. Calendars posted online help parents organize carpools and get their kids to practise, to games, to training camps. And while electronic communication seems like the most efficient way to communicate to a large group of individuals, it’s not always effective.
As a professional communicator, I’m often stunned by the surprise shown by email senders when their messages are misunderstood, or misinterpreted. These individuals are confounded by readers’ responses for clarification.
But, just because email is easy, it doesn’t mean that your message is clear.
Most of us who work with email regularly, everyday, all-day long, know that readers tend to scan email messages during workdays, or late in the evening. And those of us with BlackBerries, or other hand-held devices, don’t usually read past the first line or two. Plus, we deal with time constraints – we’re at home (the kids want the computer), we’re on the road and checking messages while stuck in traffic – we are also preoccupied when we’re scanning content.
What’s more, it takes more time to pare down content than it does to dash off an email: When we’re short on time, we tend to send longer, rambling messages, or too-short and minus important details.
Sure, some have mastered the skill of creating concise emails and routinely fire off “just the facts,” many have not.
Writer Christy Forhand reminds us that with email, “There’s no benefit of voice inflection, facial expression, body language, or the dynamic exchange that you have in a face-to-face meeting.” Again, those with less day-to-day exposure, are at a disadvantage and less likely to get their point across on the first try.
Here are a few tips that may help:
- Write for the reader, not for yourself. Common sense? Maybe. But even professional writers are guilty of dashing off inarticulate emails when strapped for time.
- Place important information upfront. Start with the main point, or the crux of message, and stick to the facts. Save the backstory and surrounding details for face-to-face storytelling. If you must include these details, add them after the main message.
- Wait it out. If you’re writing a longer email, something detailed, procedural, or where feedback is required, it’s best to let the draft sit for a bit. Even an hour or so will help you clarify your message. A cooling off period is required if the email is a complaint, or is in response to an anger-filled email.
- Re-read the content carefully before pressing Send. Do this to make sure that you’ve included all the important points and deleting any extraneous information.
- Ensure that the subject line contains a meaningful message. This is as important when responding to messages as it is when distributing the initial message.
E-mail etiquette requires its own article, but here are two parting thoughts: Reply All is overused, and messages with more than one Fwd, or Re: in the subject line often go unread right to the garbage.
If you want to learn more, check out Chris Brogan’s article “Writing More Effective Email.”