Ten Career Related 'Must-Knows' About Your Cyber-Messages & E-mails
Did you know that . . .
by Eugenia Tripputi
- According to the Wall Street Journal, each employee spends an average of almost one hour a day processing emails?
- The Net Future Institute (NFI) reports that almost 70% of executives perceived 25% of e-mails as completely unnecessary?
- People believe that the most effective way to deal with e-mails is to respond to them immediately or within a few hours? (source=NFI)
Whatever statistics show, one reality is undeniable: electronic communication has changed the way we exchange information with each other; but, most important, this shift has also impacted how we build relationships with colleagues and people we encounter who can potentially greatly influence our career growth and advancement. Therefore, it becomes imperative that we are cautious on how and when we use e-mail because both the positive and negative impact could be greater that most of us can imagine.
Here are TOP TEN crucial points to remember:
- E-mail is the quickest way to send a message but certainly is not private and will not get you the quickest response back. Even with the sophisticated "personal/confidential" caveats one may choose in applications such as Outlook, the message can still be forwarded to anyone in the world. Choose your words carefully and wisely. Think about someone you respect and tend to be conservative around. Would you feel comfortable having that person read your e-mail? If the answer is "yes," proceed. If in doubt, be safe and do not send it out! Of course, this issue can work for or against you. If you write beautifully, your message can end up in the hands of a manager who can facilitate that next promotion or, if you do not, it might get to someone who can swear never to allow you to move forward with your career in that company – ever!
- E-mail is more like a conversation that a business letter but without the advantage of having the physical interaction. Research shows that over 90% of communication is non-verbal, and, since e-mail takes that away from the exchange, keep it simple and to the point because anything can be misinterpreted. As a rule, if your message cannot be conveyed in more than two or three sentences, you are using the wrong venue. If it is a longer e-mail, the rest of it should serve as an expansion or explanation of the core.
- Even if you mean well, watch out for the tone! Since you do not have the benefit of sound, unless you are using a microphone and instant messaging, of course, be conservative in the use of capital letters, colors, and choose your words very carefully.
- Be aware of intention versus perception. Most likely, the e-mail will sound how the person would have written it rather than how you intended it. The question then becomes: who is my audience? Know the people you are directing your correspondence to and write accordingly. Using the wrong tone with the right person can have disastrous long-term consequences because once you hit that infamous "sent" button, there's no recall guarantee. In fact… it's sent!
- Misspellings, wrong grammar, and equivocal use of punctuation. Here's a career killer! Anyone can forgive a minor typo here and there, but, if you are consistently sending messages that violate the above, you will develop a reputation for being a poor writer altogether. There is an easy solution for everyday use: turn on your spell checker on Outlook. For non-routine use, leverage MS Word as your e-mail editor. Additionally, consider creating your documents in a word processor and pasting your paragraphs into your e-mails. This process sounds like a great deal of work, but when it comes to presenting a professional image, there is not enough that you can do!
- Do not use e-mail to let off steam! As a former therapist, I have to agree that it is very therapeutic to write a response and get anger out of one's system. So, I suggest a compromise: do so BUT apply the 48-hour rule. Here's how it works: write your e-mail making sure there is no address in the "to/cc/bcc" fields. Let it sit in your draft box for at least two days. Print it out and read it. Edit it very carefully. Show it to someone else whose judgment you fully trust and get feedback. If after all these steps you still think your e-mail is worth sending out, by all means do so. In my experience, most individuals choose not send it; yet, they get the benefit of working through their feelings of anger and/or frustration, and they save themselves from potential problems, embarrassment, or – even worse – career suicide!
- Never deliver unpleasant news over e-mail. Never fire someone or turn down a job using e-mail. Ideally, the first one should be done in person. The second one deserves, at a minimum, a phone call (by the way, a voice mail message is as inappropriate as an e-mail). A crucial part of building a career is about networking. Sometimes it feels like your field has a huge number of professionals but – trust me on this one – in your geographic region, chances are that they all know each other through organizations and other colleagues. You never know when opportunities might arise, and, what seems like a good idea today because you are in a hurry and have five plus job offers waiting for you might come back to bite you 10 years down the road when an economic slowdown hits again.
- Use e-mail as a cost-effective way to maintain written records. This point is important for several reasons. At a more mundane level, you might want to maintain files of applications and response during job searches or other administrative tasks. In a more sophisticated way, electronic communications are now recognized as discoverable evidence, which, in plain English means that they are official documents in cases that go to court, such as wrongful terminations (and related performance records) and discrimination cases. Either way, as long as you organize your system well, e-mails can be a wonderful tool, just be careful how you do so because everything and anything you say to your boss about your job performance could become "official."
- Setting the context of your e-mail is as important as the content. Use the subject wisely without tricking your reader. Tell them what you want from them, what the e-mail is about, and/or if there's an action expected of them. Summarize the core in your first couple of sentences, including the most important information first. Then tell the reader how they can get more information – either through a link or an attachment. Give the individual a choice! This approach shows that you are considerate of the other person's time, organized, concise, to-the-point, and knows how to communicate what you need and want… all fantastic skills in a competent employee any manager would want to hire!
- Be careful of sexist or offensive language. Though it might sound very basic, I still see correspondence of all sorts, not just electronic, using the outdated use of "he" or referring to racial groups inappropriately. A seemingly trivial error can easily be misinterpreted and transformed into a political debate or battle if seen as an ill-meant statement by a recipient.. So, always be safe and neutral when writing.
Perhaps much of what I have written in this article is common sense, but, as the cliché says, sometimes "common sense is the least common of the senses." And, as someone who does communication in all formats for a living, I see these issues have all sorts of consequences ranging from minor to atrocious to people's futures and careers. In short, remember: simple is better, use short versus long sentences that get quickly to the point, and, most important, do not write anything that could come back to haunt you!
Use all the wonderful 21st century advances to enhance your productivity but never let these take the place of people interaction. The most important piece of advice I give my participants in my e-mail writing courses: sometimes the best way to communicate is through the e-mail you don't send. Take a minute, pick up the phone or walk a few steps to the cubicle down the hall and actually talk to that person. Good old-fashioned human contact will still do wonders for your career… In my view, more than all the technology in the world will ever do!
For almost 20 years, Eugenia has held several leadership and managerial positions creating and heading training, professional development, and human resources programs as well as has consulted for Fortune 500 corporations and non-profit agencies in the United States and Latin America. Her educational foundation includes a Masters degree in Counseling from Seattle University and a Bachelor's from California State University, Hayward, with a degree in Human Development. Eugenia's unique creations, including employee and career development resources, workshops on numerous topics, interpersonal communication tools, and innovative training materials, have earned her numerous awards and recognition. Her latest innovative products, "Talk to Me... I'm Human"™ Interpersonal Communication Tools and the Career Journey Toolkit, are a reflection of her commitment to providing individuals with practical products for personal and professional growth.
Eugenia Tripputi may be contacted at http://www.globalcareersintl.com or firstname.lastname@example.org