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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Shotgun E-mail

For all of its strengths as a fast and efficient way of communicating information quickly (or building contacts) an e-mail has an Achilles heel. You remember Achilles? He was invincible except for the hamstring in the back of his leg near the ankle. Sever that and he was incapacitated.

An e-mail's potential for incapacitation is not as serious but it can have the opposite unintended effect on a reader if the writer doesn't think before writing: if an e-mail doesn't build a bridge, the information in the e-mail can function more like a shotgun blast right in the face than the delivery vessle of information or the persuasive presentation of a position by the writer of the email.

Here's an example of what I mean. Envision an email with no greeting and a vague subject heading. Here's the message:

Bring your documents to the meeting at 2 PM.

While the message is succinct and informative, the tone of the message is abrupt because it lacks the language of tact and courtesy.

A more inviting way to encourage group participation could be:

May I remind you of the meeting scheduled today at 2 PM where we will discuss the agenda items that you already know from the email sent to you on August 15th. Please bring the materials you need to share with others as we discuss the agenda items, and, if possible, make copies for others. There will be fifteen members present so organization of materials is key to our moving through the agenda swiftly.

I look forward to seeing you at 2 PM. If you have any questions or need clarification, do write again before the meeting. Chances are, if you have questions, others do too.

Now, that's a lengthier e-mail but it works on building a relationship with readers rather than simply telling readers what to do.

Which one do you prefer? To be asked or told what to do?

Keep your answer in mind when you write e-mails in the workplace, and remember: without tact or courtesy an e-mail may feel more like a shotgun blast of information than the welcome delivery of needed information. When it does, the Achilles heel of the e-mail is revealed. It is fast, but it's not as efficient as you envision it to be if it does not build the relationship with readers that it could or provide the kind of information that will make the productivity in the workplace as fast and efficient as it can be.

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