NNBV Editor Column: The twisting, winding road of email etiquette
February 26, 2019
These days, most people in business know about the importance of emails. In many ways, they represent one of the most efficient forms of communication.
Whether you're conveying simple direction to your team, trading comments with a business about a press release or sales pitch, or sending your manager a bullet-point-laden status report on a certain project, mastering the art of effective and clear email communication can do wonders for one's time management, all the while freeing up your calendar (and head space) for creativity and exploration.
But for as much as modern society has benefited from the technology of emails, there certainly are downfalls, and arguably the biggest challenge goes back to what I said about efficiency. Yes, emails are efficient. But are they always effective? Definitely not, especially when you're trying to increase productivity, effect change or clearly explain a new policy.
It's akin to the concept of quality-versus-quantity. What you might gain in convenience of crossing tasks off your list by firing off a ton of emails, you may lose in terms of real opportunity to communicate with the people you're messaging.
We are humans, after all, and even though I may be a "millennial" by age definition, I'll be the first to come to the front lines and argue that interpersonal communication is crucial to progress. The moment we become habituated to communicating via email (or via text message, or through digital tools like Zoom or Slack, etc.), we lose our ability as humans to connect with someone emotionally, beyond demanding a simple task.
Where it can become a serious issue is by using the CCC method of emailing — "Constant Computer Correcting," as I call it. The more someone seeks to correct wrongdoings or effect change via text or email (i.e., "from the computer") rather than taking time to coach regularly in person, the more chance there is for important messaging to be lost in translation; or even worse, lost productivity and passion.
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I'll be the first to admit I've done this in my career, whether it be from me as an editor to a reporter I've managed, or to a colleague — or, in rare instances, to those above me (pro tip: You should avoid correcting your superiors and managers via email. It's often not going to end well).
It's a tough habit to shake, because there is a reliance in many industries on email communication. Add to that the potential negative impact of tone, and it can be a recipe for dysfunction. People are wired differently, and the tone of your email may be consumed in a completely different way from one person to another.
Simply put, if you try to send an email with a call to action that also has a bit of, shall we say … "snark" within, odds are high your perhaps-meaningful intentions will be beside the point. It can be fairly easy to get frustrated during a busy workday, and for whatever reason, a certain email can just come across rubbing you the wrong way, leading to increased stress — or even worse, a breakdown.
Think about it. How many times have you feverishly typed out an "urgent" email, full of unnecessary adjectives and blunt language, only to take a wise step back, re-read it and then delete it from existence?
Perhaps I'm in the minority here, but this is something I practice often. For me, it's almost therapeutic.
I'm not saying abide by the cliché: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all." But, it's important to find a middle ground, one that you can walk on comfortably knowing that it's for the betterment of everyone involved.
Kevin MacMillan is editor of the Northern Nevada Business View. Email him at email@example.com.