October 23, 2006
important for effective communications by
E-mail: it’s a love-hate relationship for most. With the advent of the Internet and other technology, e-mail has changed the way we communicate, making it faster and easier – but not always more efficient.
In North America, more than 30 billion e-mails are exchanged each day. Emory averages 30 million inbound messages a month. Even if 70 percent of that is unwanted junk mail, it still “means that Emory is getting a lot of e-mail traffic,” said John Ellis, director of client technology services, Academic and Administrative Information Technology.
The sheer volume of e-mail can be dizzying, and has driven some organizations to seek guidance on how best to use it. One local company even went so far as to ban it outright once a week by implementing “No E-mail Fridays,” the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported. At Emory, e-mail has been the subject of a recent Records and Information Management Conference, and a topic of discussion among the President’s cabinet.
Although Emory has not adopted formal guidelines due to the use of different e-mail systems across the institution and other factors, the “goal is to drive toward one common set of guidelines in the future,” said Rich Mendola, vice president of information technology and chief information officer.
E-mail guidelines are in place, however, at Emory Healthcare (EHC). EHC’s e-mail policies, which address appropriate etiquette and are based on best practice policies, are posted on its employee Intranet site, said EHC Chief Information Officer Dedra Cantrell.
“E-mail is a great tool,” Cantrell said, “but the use of it can also be abused.”
And that is why “netiquette”—the contemporary term for the proper way to communicate using e-mail—
is so important.
One person who knows this well is Lynn Magee, executive administrative assistant to Provost Earl Lewis. On any given day, Magee may receive about 50 e-mails to Lewis’ 70.
Lewis’ days typically stretch from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Magee has begun reserving time on Lewis’ calendar for him to answer all those e-mails. Magee even has her own system of triage, moving messages to files marked “pending,” “completed” or “for discussion.” She also filters the provost’s messages “to see which ones are time sensitive.”
Among her pet peeves: the “little red mark” that flags a message as urgent. “It’s important but it is not always urgent,” Magee said. Avoid marking messages as high-priority, urgent or important. Or better yet, “pick up the phone,” Magee said.
Both Magee and Cantrell agree that an e-mail message’s effectiveness is based on how it is written.
“Sometimes we forget that the tone of an e-mail can come across very differently than how the message might have been received if a real-time dialog occurred,” Cantrell said. Magee’s advice is to include as much information as possible in the message, while keeping it concise and to the point.
One of the most dangerous keys on a computer may be the “send” button. To avoid misunderstandings, Paula Londe, marketing manager for undergraduate admission, recommends re-reading an e-mail message for spelling, tone and grammar before sending it.
Londe still remembers the time when she misspelled the word “thanks” in an e-mail to her boss. The computer’s spell check misidentified the word and her boss received an e-mail signed: “Thankless, Paula.”
Tips for using e-mail more effectively
• Remember that e-mail is not private. Do not use e-mail for sensitive matters such as negotiating or resolving conflicts.
• Realize that emotions don’t come across in the written language very well.
• Consider the needs of the recipient. Do they need to take action? If so, address it to them. Do they just need to be aware? Then “cc:” them.
• Do not “reply to all” when only the original sender needs to get the reply.
• Be sure that e-mail is the most appropriate communication choice. Sometimes phone calls or face-to-face meetings are more appropriate.
• Keep e-mail short and to the point, and communicate the main point early in the message.
Source: Emory Healthcare, “Using E-mail More Effectively”