Bill Lampton, Ph.D., president of Championship Communication, has served as a source for me many times when it comes to understanding how we can better communicate with one another at work. Recently, I asked him to discuss his newest efforts to teach us all how to be better e-mail communicators.
It's obvious that e-mail is here to stay, yet you say few companies really educate workers about how and why to use it. Is that the only reason that e-mail has gotten so out of control?
No, there are other reasons. We can’t leave the training up to companies alone. Just as parents need to define appropriate etiquette for dining and dating, they should tell their children that their e-mail habits create immediate impressions, too. Then parents can educate them specifically about what to avoid and what to do. Likewise, schools — including colleges and universities — should incorporate e-mail training into their courses.
Communication consultants carry a responsibility in this arena as well. For example, when I direct my all-day seminar on “Business Writing That Works,” I devote the last hour to e-mail guidelines. Usually this segment becomes the liveliest and most beneficial part of the day.
Fortunately, newspaper columnists — including you — write about e-mail protocol regularly. You’ll reach people missed by structured training sessions.
You give us rules for using e-mail such as making sure you use proper grammar and spelling, never writing an e-mail when you're angry and don't try to be funny. But does it really matter if our e-mails don't follow these rules? Why?
Yes, because failing to follow these standards will prevent us from:
• making a favorable impression
• becoming “top of mind” for raises and promotions
• selling to top-caliber customers
• reducing workplace confusion
• avoiding preventable conflicts
• maintaining morale during special challenges, like downsizing, when clarity
and conveying the right mood are essential
• enjoying the level of credibility we aspire to
• responding satisfactorily to disgruntled customers
OK, now tell us what is your most personal pet peeve with e-mails.
My decision on that is easy. Every day, I become impatient with “e-mail overkill.” Just as blabbermouths annoy me with their spoken waterfall of words, e-mailers
who don’t know when to stop get on my nerves.
For example, let’s say someone e-mails you, Anita, commending you for an article you wrote. Courteously, you reply. However, you didn’t mean to initiate daily correspondence. Next thing you know, you’re bombarded with a barrage of jokes (most of which you have seen before), personal histories, and questions about your family, hobbies, and more. Genuine professionals need to remember that “less is more” in
e-mailing. Consider: We have access to someone’s mailing address, yet we don’t send three, four, or five letters daily. We should use the same good judgment when we turn to the computer.
I have observed that the same people who used to flood our in-baskets with reams of paper memoranda now blitz our screens with repetitive e-mails. They tempt me to respond, “I understood you the first time.”
Are there instances where e-mail should never be used?
• When the topic is confidential (salary, grievances, reprimands)
• When only a face-to-face conversation can resolve tensions
• When you want to assure that you convey both content and intent accurately
• When it’s time for you to become more visible as a caring supervisor
• When the intended recipient works in the adjoining cubicle
(An exception: When both of you need a written record of the
Finally, what's the best way to sign off on an e-mail?
Sign off with a word or phrase that conveys friendliness without
Avoid, except with very close friends or family:
• “CYA” (Internet slang for “See you”) and similar e-mail shorthand
• Humor — “You da best, you da most”
• “Cordially” or “I remain yours sincerely” and other obsolete terms
• “Warmly,” “Your greatest admirer” and other expressions that could become
misinterpreted as romantic or at least flirty
• Any signoff that includes an exclamation point
Select a close that’s business-like yet not gushy
• “My best”
• “All the best”
• “Best regards”