How to Avoid an Email #FAIL


Fierce CEO, Halley Bock, is currently writing a column for Business 2 Community. We wanted to share with you her most recent article, published Wednesday, August 20th.

We’ve all done it, or had it done to us: An email used as an inconspicuous nuclear bomb meant to annihilate in the most “charming” and brief way possible. Or the dreaded “cc” ploy designed to ensure public humiliation. Or the over-enthusiastic, reply-all that creates another 100 emails on reply-all policy and email etiquette. The list could go on.

We have unwittingly uncovered many ways to abuse email – some more obvious than others, some more harmful, some more intentional. Too often, abusers are substituting cold, hard, unemotional keystrokes for real, productive relationships with coworkers. Connection, trust and relationships just can’t be established electronically.

When email is the optimal communication option, make sure you aren't stepping into a digital minefield. Here are 4 tips to avoid an email #FAIL at your workplace.

1. Emoticons can’t save you.

The most dangerous aspect of email is that the recipient can’t see your face, hear your voice, or read your body language to understand intent. And in the void of any signals, we assume the worst. An email that simply states, “I understand.” can be interpreted a multitude of ways. I've even had it come back as angry, terse, or clearly put out. When, really, all I was saying was I understood. Isn’t that a good thing?

Rather than get into the psychology of humans and why we tend towards “worst case scenario,” the invention of emoticons is clear. We put a smiley face at the end of statements to let our audience know that we are happy. Everything is good! In this case, I recommend you use them.

However, if you find yourself needing to sprinkle your email with smiley faces every other sentence or paragraph, you either need to pick up the phone and have a conversation, as the topic is too sensitive for email, or you have an Emoji addiction. In either case, don’t leave it to the recipient to deal with the emoticon-loaded message.

2. Keep it short.

Unlike this article, emails should be short. There are few things more depressing than opening an email only to find an electronic tome in which every bullet point requires an answer.

If you have a lot of information to share, consider downloading it into a shared or local document for easier reference down the road. If it is simply an “FYI” recapping the outcome of a meeting AND your team has agreed that receiving notes in the body of an email is in good form, then by all means go for it.

And, finally, if your recipient list is more than 5 with more than 5 critical items for feedback, consider pulling the team together for a quick meeting. Chances are you’ll avoid a lot of confusion and make much more efficient use of everyone’s time by coming together in person or on a call.

3. Lower the flag.

How many of you know someone whose emails are ALWAYS IMPORTANT!! Forever URGENT, as if the world may stop spinning should their emails go unattended to for 24 hours. Where every message line includes “IMMEDIATE RESPONSE REQUIRED,” as if the double red flag wasn’t enough of a cue.

Look, I like immediate gratification as much as the next person. And, sure, I like to feel important every once in a while. But let me assure you: your emails are not that important all the time. It may feel really important to you, as it should! You’re doing what you’re passionate about. But please recognize that the rest of us have our own important things as well.

4. When in doubt, don’t.

Finally, words passed on by my grandmother come to mind, “When in doubt, don’t.” If you’re concerned that someone will misinterpret your intent or tone, they will. If you think the matter or issue would best be discussed in person, it would. If you suspect the information is too complex to communicate in email, it is. If you know deep down that you are taking pot shots behind the safe veil of an email, they know too.

Email is a wonderful tool afforded to us. While it is extremely powerful in communicating information, it severely lacks in the area of creating and maintaining strong personal relationships. Be careful not to coast on email by replacing conversations with electronic memos, where we rely on binary code to do the work of emotional connection.

While we can technically “connect” online, we can only forge true, meaningful, long-term relationships face-to-face or in the presence of one another’s voice. So stand up, walk out, and deliver that message in person whenever you can.

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