Communication Skills Hints

email more effectively
March 16, 2010, 3:46 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

While I have focused on active listening skills, effective communication also relies on expressing oneself effectively.  Email has become a critical method of communicating.  Email has great powers which are easily abused.  Some useful tips for email communication are included below. 

Number one is to get the most important points in the first two or three lines.  This is most common tip I have seen and probably the most important.  Most people get too much email and reading every word is often impractical, so getting attention very early is critical.  Sometimes this is not possible with longer documents such as team minutes.  A good habit is following up with key action holders individually with separate email (with or without minutes attached as a forward) with their critical action in the first few lines. It helps remind the person of the action and also shows that you believe the action is significant.

Tip two is never send angry emails or even mildly upset emails.  Emails potentially don’t ever go away so be careful. Set it aside for a day if possible or at least an hour or two.  Come back and reread the email or review the other communication that was upsetting, make sure your reply is suitable and proportionate.   One thing to remember is that emails facilitate escalation. Think about whether are you comfortable with the email being copied to higher levels of management. I have often found that a review of whatever set me off is valuable.  Reviewing the incident from the perspective of the other party often creates greater understanding and lower offensiveness.

Tip three is as offshoot of the above.  Think about escalation before expanding the copy list on emails.  Before the email, escalation of issues was more difficult. Now, it has become far too easy.  I have seen way too many emails escalated by copying higher levels of management on simple questions between peers.  If your boss expects to be copied on every minor question you answer, he or she has control issues or needs a real job.  If you escalate an email, i.e. copy your boss and/or the sender’s boss, have a reason and put it in your reply, such as getting a second opinion.  I have seen so many simple questions grow into significant issues, wasting significant time and effort.   

Finally, the fourth tip is a pet peeve of mine, use of “reply all” as a first choice.   Way too many people have “reply all” as their only option.  I have actually seen someone send their credit card number to a massive list of people, replying to a meeting coordinator setting up room reservations. Think about whether the information is really useful or appropriate for everyone on the mailing list before picking “reply all”.   Also, never “reply all” to be deleted from a mailing list.  I have seen this grow to email exchanges in the 100’s of replies.