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Following Email Etiquette

Following Email Etiquette

    In Simplifying Your Information Intake, we looked at strategies to reduce the amount of email you need to deal with, and how to deal with what’s left much faster. Anyone who undertakes the task of clearing out their inbox for good and getting a handle on their email habits inevitably discovers that the biggest reason email is plaguing so much of their time is the amount of unnecessary or badly written email being sent their way by others.

    Here at Lifehack we like to help you become more productive, but there’s something to be said for helping others become more productive – after all, if you can make the life of your coworkers, friends and family a bit easier, isn’t it more likely they’ll return the favor?

    So, in this article we’ll look at the email etiquette that you can follow to inspire world peace and harmony and end famine. Email can make life so much easier compared to the inconvenient snail mail or the inefficient phone call, but it can also be the source of all sorts of stress. Perhaps if everyone followed these guidelines, the world really would be a happier place!

    Use Descriptive Subject Lines

    Well-crafted, descriptive subject lines are essential to being able to process email quickly. If you have to open each email just to figure out what it’s about, you can’t prioritize their responses as efficiently. While you might think the email you’re sending is the most important for the recipient to reply to, it may be way down the list for them – they know what they need to get done with the most urgency, so let them be the judge and state plainly what the message is about.

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    Ask yourself if you’d understand the purpose of the email based on the subject heading alone before settling on one, and make sure it is concise, clear and scannable. Don’t use awkward phrasing or unusual words, because they take more time to re-read and understand, hence increasing the amount of time it takes your recipient to process the message.

    Brevity is Your Friend

    Have you ever received one of those emails that never seems to end? The one that goes on for pages and pages, yet by the time you finish you feel like you’ve learned nothing?

    Have you ever sent one?

    I bet the answer is yes on both counts. We’ve all received them, and we’ve all been guilty of sending them at least once or twice before. But there’s also the serial ramblers who do this every time they hit the Compose button.

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    In 90% of cases, email that is more than a page long is too long. Unless you’re explaining complicated concepts or providing detailed instructions (because they’ve been asked for or need to be communicated for a reason), then get back to the core of your message and communicate it quickly.

    In my experience the kind of person who sends an opus for each email is the kind of person who assumes everyone is less intelligent than themselves or feels the need to explain completely irrelevant things. For instance, if you’re a graphic artist, you don’t need to explain the techniques used to create an image for a client when you hand over the work. They don’t care; that’s why they hired you instead of figuring it out for themselves.

    But Don’t Be Too Brief

    Context is important; when you deal with email all the time, it’s easy to forget what you’ve sent out in the last few days. When people remove your message from their reply completely, or fail to include key details in a message, confusion ensues and more back-and-forth is required to sort it out.

    When replying to messages, clip off as much of the previous email as you can while keeping key sentences quoted in your reply. Ensure you provide contextual details that may seem self-evident to you, but not to the recipient – this is especially true when you’re emailing lecturers. Your course is not the only one they teach, most of the time!

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    Don’t CC if You Don’t Have a Reason

    Ah, the terminal case of misplaced carbon copies. Before you inflict this painfully irritating malady on someone, you’ve got to go back and have a good look and ask yourself if it’s necessary. From experience, I’d say about 90% of messages I’ve received where I’m not in the To: field but the CC: field were completely and totally useless to me.

    “Just keeping you in the loop” is a frequent reason given for doing this, and while there are sometimes cases where this is a good idea, for the most part you shouldn’t send someone an email unless you want them to take action on it

    Reply-All Isn’t Always Necessary

    Someone asks their whole mailing list for advice. The whole mailing list uses reply-all to give said advice. You get the pleasant surprise of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of totally unwanted emails. Reply-all is there for a reason and can be useful, but it’s yet another feature of email that’s rarely used for any good reason at all.

    Whether the boss sends you and three other guys an email asking what time the serial bus arrives (I’ve read too much Dilbert) or your 13 year old niece/daughter/cousin/sister has sent out yet another chain mail and you want to tell her off, don’t use reply-all. Don’t punish anyone more than they already have been!

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    Use BCC for Bulk Mail

    Speaking of little girls who make liberal use of the forward button, if you absolutely must send a bulk mail to your address book, always, always use the BCC field. It’s a basic privacy measure and not only prevents your recipients from receiving endless spam as a result of your carelessness (who doesn’t already?), but shows your recipient you have respect for their privacy and some intellect.

    I always feel somewhat more amicable to a mass-mailer who has bothered to use a BCC, even on an internal email.

    And, of course…

    Don’t Use The Forward Button

    The good old forward button. Whenever you receive a once-in-a-lifetime offer to have your love interest call and ask you on a hot date, it’s the forward button that lets you send it on to fifteen people and have it come true. Sounds like something you do often? In that case, I really hate you.

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    If it’s not chain mail, it usually boils down to another case of “just keeping you in the loop” that’s not usually necessary; don’t bother unless someone requires the specific information in the forwarded message to complete their job.

    Email can be a massive waste of time. Help others cut their email time down and you’ll inevitably spend less time on it yourself.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Published on May 18, 2021

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

    The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

    Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

    Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

    Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

    There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

    Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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    Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

    We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

    Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

    A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

    The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

    Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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    Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

    Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

    Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

    While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

    Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

    These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

    Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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    Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

    Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

    Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

    Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

    Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

    Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

    As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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    This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

    Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

    Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

    These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

    Actions Speak Louder Than Words

    Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

    Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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    Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

    More Tips Improving Listening Skills

    Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

    Reference

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