Archive for the ‘Etiquette’ Category

On the go? Answer emails with a phone call.

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

I read an article recently about a new work related illness — Black Berry Thumb.


I could see this one coming.  There are millions of people that are as obsessive compulsive as church rats when it comes to their emails.  Six or seven years ago before mobile email, you hit the F5 (function 5) button fifty times a day to check your email.  And for what?

People that carry Crackberry’s around and use them to immediately answer all comers write the worst replies, often cryptic and full of spelling and punctuation errors.  And according to this article, they end up with an injury to boot.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to know when an important message is out there (on email, voice mail, etc.).  I’m not saying to be out of touch.  What you need to do is find balance and write mobile email communications as a last resort.  You should only respond to emails that need an immediate answer when you are in transit.  The way I do this is simple;  I treat my Crack Berry as read only.  If I see an email that needs my immediate attention, I call that person on my cell.  First of all, it is way quicker, especially if the answer needs to have some sophistication (they all do).

In rare occasions (maybe 10% of the time), I can email back a word like “approved”.  But most of the time I read and respond by phone.

Try this approach out next week and give your thumbs (and other people brains) a rest.

PS– You should also respond to emails with a phone call when someone is upset (poor service, misunderstanding, etc.).  It will surprise them that 30 seconds after they hit the send button you called them to deal with it.  It will also help you communicate your intentions via your audible tone of voice.

What ever you do, don’t live like a rat in a cage on an endless thread.  How do you answer emails on the go?

Obey Email Preferences

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

If you want to have a productive relationship, especially with someone of power, obey their preferences when it comes to email.

I learned this lesson at a critical point of my life at Yahoo.  Anil Singh ran Yahoo’s sales and marketing groups for years and was the guru of numbers.  He is a brilliant and powerful man, and everybody wanted to work for him.  So he was pummeled with information, most of it useless.  I wrote him an opus about a meeting I attended with a huge prospective partner.   The next day, from his cube, he pointed to me and motioned me into his space.

“Look at all this reading material”, he opened.  He was sitting in a mountain of documents, charts and bound reports.

“You should be able to fit any email message into my preview pane.  Otherwise, come see me or call.”

I immediately realized that I could be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.  Anil is a “preview pane” guy that wants pithy, to the point requests and answers to his emailed questions.  For anything complicated, he liked warmer levels of contact (email cold, face to face real warm).  I honored that request from that day forward and it made a huge difference in my relationship with him.  When I went to work for Greg Coleman and later Wenda Millard, I learned their email preferences right away and stuck to them.  This is a little known secret about how to handle brand new relationships at work.  If you make this as important as knowing their birthday or their favorite football team — you will go far in your BizLife.  Most people will not tell you like Anil told me.  That was good luck, a gift.  To obey, you first need to ask about the rules.

Dr. Tony Alessandra coined the phrase, “The Platinum Rule”.  Whereas the Golden Rule says that you reflect your preferences on others (which would suck for them if you are self-destructive), the Platinum Rule says, “do unto others as they want to be done unto!”.

Yep, that’s right.   New email law:  obey preferences.

Editors Note: Thanks to Scott Zimmerman, Managing Partner at Platinum Rule Group for setting us straight on where the Platinum Rule came from.

Don’t write War and Peace over email.

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

More than ever, less is more when it comes to words in our email Inbox. Did you know that the average information worker (like you and me) reads the equivalent of a novel every two days?  And we read it at lightening speed, scanning it in from a computer screen.  Sometimes it is not the volume of emails that we drown in, but the density of some of the notes we get from our colleagues.

When someone writes an email to us that would be ten pages long printed out, we just close the email and say to ourselves, “I’ll read that when I have time.” 

The person sending it to you took a great deal of time to write it.  You don’t want to swim through it and it takes forever to finally deal with it.  This is not good for your relationship or the purpose of the email in the first place. 

Today, simple is the new smart – especially at work.  For some companies simplicity (in Customer and employee interactions) is a competitive advantage.  Part of simplicity is the reduction of information aimed at a target.  Fewer words = a better experience for them in communicating with you which = more future attention.  Email is far from simple when it comes to conveying complex ideas, emotions and intentions.  You would have to write dozens of paragraphs to convey the subtle nuisances of a phone or face-to-face conversation. 

Yet, many of us rely too much email to conduct conversations.  It’s like we are hiding behind our laptop letting our flying fingers do our talking.  When you find that the body of your email cannot fit into the preview pane (Outlook) or a computer screen, pick up the phone and talk to them about it.  Academic researchers to technical writers all agree that the shortest distance between two minds is a live conversation.  Nothing beats it.

NOTE:  This is usually, but not always the case.  I like to establish communication preferences with people when I first start to work with them.  How do you want me to contact you, phone or email?  Do you like short emails with more detailed stuff in phone calls or do you want it all in a note?  It is conversation worth having and will improve your business relationship.   

For more information on how simplicity is a new competitive advantage in business, read Bill Jensen’s brilliant book Simplicity

Audit an email relationship

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Sometimes you can turn a great working relationship into a broken one over email.

Think about how many emails you exchange with your partners at work. Take, for example, the last fifty emails you’ve sent your right hand person (if you have one). If you isolated them, and just read what you wrote, should you be proud?

I challenge you to audit the last fifty emails you’ve sent to a trusted business partner. Read them for tone, intension, friendliness, reasonableness and crypticness. Imagine you received them, all in a pile over just a week or so. How would you feel? Are you coming across as a coach or a dictator?

If you do this exercise, you’ll realize that email is really a poor way to say no or talk about emotionally charged things. The phone truly the next best thing to being there.

Getting the last word in over email…

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Here’s another installation in my rules of email etiquette: Don’t reply to say “thanks”.

One of my basic rules of email is to let the thread (the back and forths) stop. Don’t get in the last word, even if it is “thanks”.

You are working on a spreadsheet (and consulting paper) and your Outlook envelope starts to flash and you stop what you are doing to check your email. A coworker replied, “thx” on their crack berry — you had emailed them a report yesterday. You peck hard on the delete button, sigh, and toggle back to the spreadsheet.

Multiply that interruption times five a day and you now understand the plight of the over-pinged information worker. One more interruption is still one more irritation. In my study on NEDS (New Economy Depression Syndrome), I quoted Heartmath Research Institute talking about how interruption was as bad as overload, when it came to creating information stress.

Let’s be kind and let the digital conversations die with the successful transaction. The next time someone sends you what you ask for or answers your question — tell her thanks in person the next time you see her. For now, give her a break so she can finish her spreadsheet and go home.

PS — This counts 1000% for reply-to-all thanks.  When someone hits reply-to-all and says that one word, a  batch of chatter erupts as others feel compelled to say thanks too.  Those will drive you crazy and sometimes create a vicious cross post, leading to a dozen other RE RE RE RE email interruptions in your life.

Don’t email your people while they are on vacation!

Monday, June 9th, 2008

When one of your biz partners (employee, vendor, coworker) is on his or her annual summer vacation – do them a favor and leave them alone!

When I worked at Yahoo, I put my employee’s vacation days into my calendar to remind me to leave them off threads or BCC/CCs. When there was an email that they would eventually need to see or be copied on (when they got back), I would part it in the draft folder, then send all of them the day they returned.

The research I conducted for my Email Etiquette training program indicates that a person would rather get twenty emails first thing on Monday, coming back from time off, than twenty emails spread out over their vacation.

Why? When you send emails to people on vacation, they feel the need to check their email more often, respond to you and get engaged again with work. This destroys the healing process of time off and is quite inconsiderate on your part.

Great managers and business partners let their people take real time off. No chatter, CYA-FYI junk, just pure time off. After all, you wouldn’t call his or her cell phone twenty times while they were on vacation!

Check out more ideas on better email behavior at: Email A to Z

Hurt by a forward

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

When you want to send a note that you don’t want to circulate around the world, put “DO NOT FORWARD” in capital letters at the beginning of the note.

I didn’t do this, and a note I wrote, complaining to a coworker about our CEO ended up getting forwarded around the company — and now I’m getting fired.

Posted by blog reader John Mastick.

Editors note: Good luck John! Go talk to the CEO, grovel, tell him/her you’ve learned your lesson!

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.

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