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Do you have trouble getting answers to email you send at work? Are there some people with whom you need to communicate on a regular basis who don’t answer your email and seem to be avoiding your phone calls?
Before you chalk up the lack of communication to other people’s bad work habits or rudeness, take a close look at your own communication style. It’s possible that those who don't answer your emails or take your phone calls aren’t careless, forgetful, or rude. They just may be trying to avoid you.
If you don’t have an ongoing personal disagreement with someone and they don't owe you work or money, the problem could be the way you communicate in email. You see, what you say in email often “sounds” different to the recipient than it would if you were talking to them in person. If the email messages you send seem condescending, petty, picky, or needlessly complicated, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to get responses in a timely fashion.
Here are some of the most aggravating email mistakes to avoid.
- Marking emails you send out with an exclamation point to indicate high importance for routine matters. Yes, you want people to read email you send, and yes you think the matter is important. But marking everything as high importance is going to have the opposite effect. Those who frequently receive email from you marked with an exclamation point will start ignoring it – and be mad at you for sending so many emails marked high importance.
- Demanding an immediate response when it’s not warranted. Just because something is important to you doesn’t mean that others should drop what they’re doing to answer your question or do what you want done. They have their priorities, too. Not only will they get mad at you, but if requests aren’t truly urgent, they’ll soon be ignored – just like the fabled boy who cried “Wolf!” too often. So, if the matter you’re discussing in email isn’t truly urgent (i.e., no one is going to suffer any harm or damage if whatever you want done isn’t handled the same day), then don’t ask for immediate action. And, if something really does need to be handled right away, explain why. (And remember to say “Please” and “Thank You”.)
- Responding to someone else with a one-liner without including important details. “Call me,” or “We need to change the date” may work when you’re talking live with someone about a project. But if that’s all you put in an email, the recipient may need to dig through a stack of other email to find out why you wanted them to call you or what project or event needed a date change.
- Including too much detail. Need a manufacturer to do a better job of packaging the inventory products they ship you? Unless you’re a Big Box Store, don’t send the manufacturer a long note telling them what kind of packaging tape to use, how many times to reinforce it, and what grade shipping cartons to use. Instead, politely remind them to package the products securely so they don’t get damaged in shipment. If you’ve had a telephone conversation to discuss the problem, mention it briefly (if this is the first shipment since the call), but don’t rehash the entire phone call. And don’t forget to say “Please” and “Thank You.”
- Similarly, if you send a team member an email request to pull together a report on the team progress or do some other task, tell them what you want done and when you need it by. Don’t include a lot of detail about why it’s important to do the task or how you expect them to pay attention to all the details and format the report the way they were taught. If it’s a task they know how to do, state the task and the deadline in a sentence or two.
- Copying the boss -- especially when the issue is minor. If you and a team member or anyone else you have to interact with at work have a minor difference of opinion, work it out between the two of you without copying the boss on your emails. If you see someone has made an insignificant mistake and want it corrected, contact the person privately with a friendly note. (For instance, “Hi Joe, I just saw a typo on the website. Thought you’d want to know about it so you can fix it.”) Don’t copy the boss. The boss doesn’t need to know that Joe Smith made a typo on the company website and you found it. The boss also doesn’t need to know that you asked Barbara to do three things yesterday, but she couldn’t get to them all, and still has one thing left to do. Remember, copying the boss makes you look like a tattletale. And no one loves a tattletale -- or wants to return a tattletale’s email messages.
- Changing the subject line when replying to an email. A lot of people use the subject line of emails to determine if and when to open and read the mail. If you and one or more other people are having an ongoing conversation about a project, and the subject doesn’t change, don’t change the subject line in the email. The people you want to read your response, may miss it, or may not be able to find it in the future to refer to it if you change the subject line.
- Not changing the subject line for new topics of discussion. You and Dale have been discussing the best way to set up your podcast. All the messages have the same subject line. But while you’re reading Dale’s last response, you remember that you wanted to ask him to find a commercial artist who can design a flier for your next seminar. Don’t hit reply (to the podcast emails) to tell Dale to find the artist. Start a new email with a new subject line and send that to Dale so he can keep the issues separate in his email.
If you keep the tips above in mind, remember that email recipients aren’t necessarily thinking about the same things you are at the time they get your email, and remember to say “Please” and “Thank You” often, you’ll find more of your email will get prompt replies and more of the things you need done, will get done quickly.
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