6 Keys to Better Email Communication

Good communication is key to productivity, yet much of our communication happens today via email. Though email allows us to move quickly, it also makes us feel highly unproductive.  Common email mistakes lead to miscommunication and decreased productivity for you and your email recipients.

Reply All

It is unlikely that everyone in an email thread needs to see every response. Remember a group email can include 100’s of people! Only send a reply to the people who absolutely need the information.  Reply all creates a Quadrant 3 (urgent but not important) distraction for everyone who did not need to see the message. If you need an added layer of protection, Outlook has created a couple of useful reply all tools. One tool is for the person replying. It sends a pop-up alert when you hit the reply all button. If you are the sender, you can also remove the reply all function before sending a large group email.

Read Twice, Ask Once

Asking unnecessary questions not only wastes the other person’s time, but it shows that you didn’t pay attention to what they said the first time around. When you are in a hurry, you may not take the required time to digest an email communication. Instead of skimming your email, take a moment to really read and understand it. Only then will you be ready to act appropriately or to ask the relevant questions.

Subject Line Mistakes

How much time do you spend searching for important, but “lost” emails?

This time zapper can be solved with three simple tips:

  1. Alert the reader to the type of email you are sending: Response, Request, Informational, or Entertainment.
  2. Create concise, but relevant subject.
  3. Every time you begin discussing a new topic you should start a new email or, at the very least, change the subject line so that it reflects the new topic.

Here are some examples:

Request: Certification meeting with Coca-Cola

Informational: Please Read HBR Productivity article Page 22

Response:  Alternate dates for Meeting request with Tom W.

Pay Attention to Details

Even little things like spelling and grammar can cause confusion and wasted time. Spend an extra few seconds of Quadrant 2 (urgent and important) time to make sure your email reads like you want it to. Watch abbreviations and read for tone. Attention to detail will impress your reader and help to avoid some of the miscommunication that happens when details are missed.

Check Your Tone

Misunderstood emails are the biggest time waster of all. Albert Mehrabian’s communication study showed that words make up a very small part of direct communications. In other words, we need to hear the tone of the words and see body language in order to really understand the message. Unfortunately, email is ONLY words, which often causes a distortion of the message. Before you send any email, read for tone. Make sure you have carefully picked each word and phrased each sentence to mean exactly what you meant. Be careful of misunderstood clichés and jargon. If you have any concern your email can be misread, it probably will be. In that case, you are better to communicate directly.

Some Things Are Better Said In Person

Email can be a tool or a crutch. If you are using it to avoid a conversation that should be done in person, think again. Criticism and frustration should always be delivered face-to-face if you want to avoid hurt feelings; misunderstandings; and long, drawn out communication cycles. Don’t hide behind your keyboard. Even easy questions are often better asked “live”. Before you send your next email pause and ask yourself, “Is this the most productive way to communicate my message?”

Avoiding these common mistakes will improve your productivity and increase your ability to communicate effectively. Technology should work for you, not against you and it can when you utilize it well!

–Contributed by Suzette Blakemore, Regional Productivity Practice Leader, FranklinCovey Co.


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