Digital messaging seems to be the preferred method of conversation these days, with emails being the preferred method for business communication and SMS being the preferred method of communication between friends.

The advantages are clear

  • it takes a lot less time to shoot off a message than make a phone call
  • there is a written record of the communication, which is handy for business
  • you can copy other people in on the conversation, so it is easier to keep people in the loop
  • you can think about your response before replying
  • you respond to emails at a time that suits you
  • with wireless devices such as Blackberry’s and PDA’s you can access your email anywhere in the world at anytime.

But there are also a lot of disadvantages that must be considered

  • there is a lot of communication in tone and body language that cannot be conveyed in an email.
  • many emails are written quickly and sent of without being proof read by the author, let alone another person. This can lead to spelling and grammar mistakes and miscommunication.
  • if you read, review and reply to every email as it comes in, you can spend your entire day on emails in an adhoc manner. This can kill any productivity that you had and make you feel a slave to your email.
  • you can easily use a wrong word, or send your email to the wrong person, which can lead to accidentally sharing confidentially information, embarrassment or even legal action.

If you want to see some particular bad email mistakes have a look at www.thinkbeforeyousend.com.

OK, so email is here to stay and with the proliferation of wireless devices that can send / receive emails, I believe it will also replace SMS as a form of instant communication in the near future. So what can we do to make sure that it has a positive impact on our professional and personal life.

  1. You need to be self disciplined to not respond to each email as it comes into your inbox. This builds an expectation that you will reply to everything instantly, and people perceive a drop in service when you have a day off or are in training for a day. You should review and reply to all your emails in a batch once a day and only reply to emails that need urgent attention more frequently. Turn of your email notification in outlook so you aren’t distracted every time and email comes in. You can do the same on your Blackberry and turn off the email download function during periods when you not working or working on a project that needs focus and concentration.
  2. Try and cut down the number of emails that you receive. Have emails that you are being cc’d into, go into a different folder, these are for information only and don’t require a response. Get yourself off mailing lists and opt to instead subscribe to the RSS feeds of these services.
  3. Always proof read every email, no matter how short it is. Check for spelling and grammar, but also read it aloud to see how it sounds. Is there anyway that it could be misinterpreted. Get a colleague to check it to if in doubt.
  4. Never send an email that you wouldn’t want the whole world to read.
  5. Never send private content including credit card numbers in emails.
  6. Write the email content first and add the subject and recipients in second. This will ensure that you proof read the email and don’t accidentally send it.
  7. If you aren’t fully confident that your email will be interpreted with the intent you had in mind then ring the person to get your message across and then confirm the result of you conversation in a document.
  8. The combination of face-to-face, phone and email communication at the right times and in the right proportions will give you an edge over your competitors.
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