Fundamentals of effective e-mail communication in business

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By Goke Ilesanmi

Electronic mail, called e-mail for short, is a system that allows people to send messages to each other by computer. E-mail makes everything easier and faster including making a powerful business impression and establishing positive professional relationships. The businessperson who uses the technology effectively and appropriately will see the results of that effort reflected in the bottom line. But it must be stressed that you cannot substitute e-mail for one-on-one communication. So, use e-mail for scheduling, routine updating and other administrative efficiencies; and the phone or face-to-face communication for everything else.

Uncomfortable leaders
Some leaders, especially those who are less comfortable with groups, rely on e-mail communication as the primary source of communication. While they may rationalise that it makes them more productive to communicate easily, their team(s) will definitely suffer. There is an enormous value when the team can discuss issues and explore ideas together.
Research has confirmed that sales teams discovered the power of the face-to-face meetings long ago. Even though a sales force is geographically scattered, the benefits of the sales meetings are clear and worth the investment. At this analytical juncture, let us examine some dos and don’ts of email communication.

Omission of the subject line
The first one is omission of the subject line and/or ineffective subject line. We have gone past the time when we did not realise the significance of the subject line. It makes no sense to send a message that reads “no subject” and seems to be about nothing. Given the large volume of e-mails that each person receives, the subject header is essential if you want your message read any time soon. The subject line has become the hook as in persuasive business proposals or letters.

Contrasting header
Another one is failure to change the header to correspond with the subject. Do not just hit “Reply” button every time you get a mail. Adding more details to the header will allow the recipient to find a specific document in his/her message folder without having to search every one you sent. Start a new message if you change the subject completely.

Imbibing 24-hour-reply culture
This is another one. If you receive an e-mail that gets you angry, and your first reaction is to think about counter-attack, do not. Close it and wait 24 hours before you respond. More often than not, your anger will get defused and you can decide whether to reply the person in a mature way or go and discuss with him or her.

Never deliver a negative message by email
It is also advisable that you should not deliver a negative message by email. For instance, “Your assignment is very late. Why didn’t you submit it early?” can be spoken with a neutral inflection. But when it is written, out of context, it may sound angry and demanding. Delivering a negative message is difficult, even when it is spoken face-to-face let alone when it is delivered by email.

Using Cc and Bcc
The Cc function allows you to copy your mail to other people besides your target audience but with the knowledge of the recipient. In fact, the recipient will see all the people you copied and all he needs to do to copy his reply to all of them is to hit the Reply All button. Experts illuminate that the flood of “cc’s” (carbon copies) is nothing more than junk mails. According to Joan Llyod, a career-development expert, “Of course, there are times when someone truly needs to know about the action taken or be looped in, but for those of you who send cc’s just to CYA — stop!”
The Bcc function enables you to send “blind copies” to other people without the knowledge of the recipient of the e-mail. But some experts justify the use of Bcc on the need for security and privacy of emails; others regard this as dishonest, especially that it denies the recipient of the message the opportunity to know other recipients.

In a related development, most people forward mails sent to them without seeking permission. Research shows that almost everyone is guilty of this one. According to Lydia Ramsey, a business etiquette expert and professional speaker, if the message was sent to you and only you, why would you take responsibility for passing it on? Too often confidential information has gone global because of someone’s lack of judgement. Unless you are asked or request permission, do not forward anything sent just to you.

Thorough editing
Most times, people fail to realise the importance of thorough editing in emails. Your email is not a text message in which you can use the excuse of trying to reduce the number of words and cost to type anyhow. Emails reflect people’s personality. The Llyod says, “When I get a sloppy email, with poor punctuation, misspelled words or written in lower case letters, it tells me the person just doesn’t get it. They don’t realise that what they write and how they write telegraphs their credibility to others.”
Just like the use of small letters throughout a mail is considered inappropriate, writing your mail in capital letters is regarded as screaming in e-mail etiquette.

Leaving off your signature
Always close with your name, even though it is included at the top of the e-mail, and add contact information such as your phone, fax and street address. The recipient may want to call to talk further or send you documents that cannot be e-mailed. Creating a formal signature block with all that data embedded is the most professional approach.

Last thing to do
The name or address of the person to whom you are writing is actually the last piece of information you need to enter to avoid your e-mail getting sent prematurely in the event that you mistakenly hit the SEND button.
PS: For those making inquiries about our Public Speaking, Business Presentation and Professional Writing Skills programme, please visit the website indicated on this page for details.
GOKE ILESANMI, Managing Consultant/CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Certified Public Speaker/MC, Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker and Career Management Coach. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.
Tel: 08055068773; 08187499425
Email: gokeiles2010@gmail.com
Website: www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng


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