Archive for May, 2008

Think before you forward

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Here’s an excerpt from my new training DVD: The Dirty Dozen Rules Of Email Etiquette

Rule 4: Think before you forward
At one of the companies I did research at there was a saying. If you want something to go global, telephone, telefax, or tell Deborah, and then you’ll get the job done. Deborah was one of those people that would forward everything to everyone, even before she read it in the first place. How many times have you had one of your personal emails forwarded without your permission? Did it get you in trouble? This is no different than someone who walks out of a conference room and is a little tattletale or a gossip snipe. What I’ve found is that the forward button in email makes millions of people 21st-century tattletales.

When I send you something over email instead of calling you on the phone or coming by your cubicle, that doesn’t mean that I’m signing a waiver of my privacy and your discretion. There’s still an implicit social contract that, unless it’s stated otherwise, the things we talk about are personal. Yet it’s so easy for us to forward an email to a third party, without reading the entire thread or the entire context, and not taking that other person’s reputation and feelings into account.

So I have a system, and I’m so sorry it’s based on three letters that actually form a word. I can’t help it. But the acronym is PAL. P stands for permission. The first question is, do I have permission to forward? Here’s an example: Customers email you when they are having a problem. They’ll say, “feel free to forward this to the right person if you’re not the right person.” That’s when you explicitly have permission.

The A stands for what will it accomplish? In other words, if I forward this to another person, is it going to help get something done? Is it going to create a deeper understanding of an issue? If you don’t see any upside to it, even with the permission, don’t forward.

The last idea, and that is L: is this email loaded? In other words, sometimes an email is emotionally charged. It can take just one or two words like “that idiot,” to change the entire tone of an email you’ve forwarded, where you’ve been told you have permission to forward it, and you know that it would accomplish something. Sometimes sensitive or private issues are discussed further down the email, especially if it is part of a threaded conversation.

When you have permission, you know it’s going to make a change, and there’s no emotional content in it, then you may hit the forward.

Here’s a bonus idea: When you’re sending me an email, if you don’t want me to forward it, in capital letters at the beginning of the email, say “DO NOT FORWARD.” This will ensure that you keep your conversations private. If you have to say something over email that might upset other people (criticism, etc.), make sure you know that your recipient is not to forward – you’d be surprised how much that will reduce email mishaps in your life.

Don’t waste good news over email

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Sometimes, you get your best ideas from the people you are attempting to teach.

Yesterday, I gave a talk at a business convention and focused many of my remarks on email etiquette at work. As you know, I’m pretty passionate about this subject and even developed a training/edu-taining DVD (The Dirty Dozen Rules Of Email Etiquette).

My first piece of advice is “Don’t give bad news over email.” Why? Email is a weak channel of communication when it comes to conveying your intentions. This is true based on decades of communications research.

Dr. Albert Mehrabian at the University of California has studied how humans decode intentions throughout his career. His findings suggest that email is a terrible way to convey intentions. It may deliver data and simple answers, but it doesn’t deliver a fraction of the communication power of a phone call or face to face meeting. Consider this graphic:

What does this mean? If you have bad news, criticism or emotional charged things to say, pick up the phone or see them face to face. This way they will understand you are a coach, not a dictator.

After my talk, an audience member approached me with a wonderful suggestion: Don’t give good news over email, either. Same reason: Email waters down the message. Additionally, email is so weak as a channel, your recipient might confuse your good news with jealousy, envy or snarkiness. “I thought you’d like to know, you got the promotion” over a blackberry could have many meanings. But a phone call with your authentic enthusiasm saying, “Dude, you got the big job!!!” conveys all the excitement and allows the moment to be powerful. Great idea.

Pick up The Dirty Dozen Rules Of Email DVD

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