It’s Monday morning and I’ve just spend an hour deciphering, decoding and deleting a pile of emails; very few of which were of importance in either my professional or my personal life.

It is really incredible how this insidious means of communication has stolen in and taken over my life.  Once upon a time, oh way back in the mists of the 1970’s, if I wanted to contact someone I had two options either pick up the phone and ring them or write them a letter.

I can still remember the tingle of excitement when the postman popped that envelope into the letterbox – who was it from?  What was it about?  Anticipation was keen.

But now I open the Inbox and sigh – what an awful lot of rubbish collects in there, all masquerading as something important.  It doesn’t really matter what the subject heading says, I have to read at least the opening sentence to ensure I don’t miss important information before I decide what to do with it – the temptation alas is often to delete without reading; especially when I get close to the end of the marathon.

And some of my correspondents use a completely different language – I feel like I have been betamaxed, in fact I appear to be 404’d, and while I don’t quite think I’m a stress puppy I do admit to going postal!!  See what I mean … ROFL!!

I also have a number of delightful correspondents who wish to enrich me with substantial sums of money, if only I would be kind enough to supply the details of my bank account into which they would joyfully deposit said sums.  Next there’s the one that seems never to notice that their capital lock is on, and I feel quite exhausted when I reach the end of the message.

Then I reach the important ones, the ones that deal with my business life, and the others I love to receive from my friends and family.  Only, sometimes it is never quite clear which is which. Some of my business correspondence is lovely and chatty, and the tone is friendly and relaxed.  Indeed, I have been sadly taken to task when I failed to realise the urgency of the situation – it got missed in the general air of relaxed friendship.

My family, (mainly because I have nagged them repeatedly) have now caught onto the fact that email is not always just a light hearted electronic conversation; and when used to convey important information it does need to be constructed in a way that allows the recipient to clearly understand the urgency.

If we understand that email is just another way of constructing communication, we should be able to create a style that allows us to convey our precise message in easy to understand terms – and avoid wasting time when they pop into the inbox. So here are my suggestions:

First – do not confuse me with multi subject headers. Ones like “Confirmation of meeting time and holiday photos” confound my simple mind.  If I want to talk to you about business I may not actually want to view the holiday memories.  And if I am desperate to see what you got up to in Rome, it may not be a good time to discuss Communication Training.

Second – Uppercase does not impress me, it merely confirms my suspicion that you don’t know your Capital Lock from your Scroll Lock.  I will accept the occasional capitalisation to show true emphasis BUT I suggest you use it with caution, not everyone is so forgiving.

Third – Please, may I suggest that when you respond to some contentious issue, you write the email and put it into the draft box.  Revisit it the next day and if you still think it is a good idea then send it.  Immediate responses in the heat of the moment have led to the death of some promising friendships.  Flame wars breakout on facebook and twitter for the same reason they do in the Inbox – precise emotional intention is unable to be accurately assessed.  With the best will in the world a grinning smiley will not decrease my anger if I feel you have insulted me.

Fourth – take some thought to the way that the email is constructed.  With time being so constrained in business today it really helps if, as well as an accurate and concise heading, you put the reason for the message, its relevance and if possible the time frame up front – in the first paragraph in fact.

This allows me to assess the urgency and relevance of the correspondence, helping me to decide the most appropriate way of dealing with it.

There are some who naturally translate the more formal structure of business writing into the email format, and I bless them everytime I open their message.  Clear, concise and to the point it makes understanding and responding a breeze; and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And finally – reread your message before pressing the fatal ‘enter’ key!  It is surprising the number of words missed out, the keying mistakes that get through and the confused thought processes that may need clarifying – so check before sending is the mantra.

Time is precious, it is also money – and time wasted in ploughing through a host of emails is not time spent profitably.  Carelessness in crafting your electronic correspondence can really leave a bad impression. 

So my last piece of advice to you is that if you have something to discuss which may be open to misunderstanding, don’t use email; pick up the phone and ring them.  Why?  Because you will have instantaneous feedback to warn you if something is being misunderstood in time for you to rescue the relationship.

Email is a great servant, but we need to know how to use it wisely.  We also need to understand the problems it can create as well as the benefits it brings.  Crafting clear email messages needs some thought and it is much better to sit down and plan before you switch on; rather than sit down at the keyboard and compose on the run.

Now if you will excuse me, I have just been notified that “I have mail” – so I suppose that I had better take a deep breath, calm and centre myself and then open the Inbox.

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