The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.George Bernard Shaw

With business today being conducted more and more through electronic communication – email, SMS, IM, etc. – it is becoming more and more important to fine tune the skill of communicating through writing. Effective business communication via email goes a bit further than the ability to compose a well written sentence. It’s about being able to communicate, collaborate, and convey information effectively through electronic transmission.

In our industry, we handle the bulk of our business via email. We work with clients, printers, publishers, advertising service coordinators, vendors, sales people, etc., across the country; many of these relationships are longstanding and well established, though we’ve never met face-to-face. Working from such distances, it is imperative to effectively share information between all parties involved in the project.

One simple miscommunication can lead to hours of re-doing a task or re-working a project. This means hours and money lost where otherwise had the information and directions been conveyed effectively mistakes may have been avoided. Through our own trial-and-error process over the years of electronically communicating with business partners and clients, we’ve established some rules for email correspondence we feel worth sharing.

Forwarding Emails

1. Don’t forward emails or copy someone midway through an email chain without an explanation as to why you’re sharing the information. Unless discussion about the shared information has taken place outside email, sending random information to someone and expecting them to know what to make of it is just that – random. If you decide someone needs to be made privy of something requiring action, make sure to explain the context and give clear instructions for the necessary follow up.

Using ‘Reply All’

2. Use the ‘Reply All’ feature responsibly. There are times when an email sent to multiple recipients is sent for sharing purposes only, and there are times when the topic at hand needs to be treated as a discussion or dialogue between all parties involved. For instance, when a boss or colleague sends a message about the frightful state of the fridge and is notifying the entire staff that contents will be emptied at the end of the day; this does not require a ‘Reply All’ for your response. If you have questions, or feel the need to respond with some sort of quippy remark, simply click ‘Reply’ so that only the sender’s time is used. No one else in the office needs to know your leftovers were purchased today and you were hoping to leave them for lunch tomorrow.

However, when attempting to schedule a meeting through email between more than two people, please do use the ‘Reply All’ feature. This way, when you’ve responded that, “Tuesday at 1:00 pm doesn’t work for me, but Wednesday at 11:00 am does,” the other individuals in the group know before responding that Tuesday at 1:00 pm will now likely be off the table. This saves the person tasked with nailing down the date and time for the meeting a great deal of their time when they don’t have to then go back and respond to everyone’s individual emails with what the other’s have said.

Email for Phone Call?

3. Please, no emails just to request a phone call. This one is simple. If you need to speak over the phone – call … and if the person you’re trying to reach is busy, leave a message regarding the topic at hand. For a lot of people, verbal communication comes easier and therefore a phone call is quicker and a more efficacious use of time. In the days of mobile technology, the use of the phone in business is definitely still acceptable.

One or Two Words

4. Please, no 1 to 2 word emails. On the heels of number 3, emails like, “Call me,” or “We need to discuss something,” are not only frustrating, but they are time wasters. If you’re taking the time to write an email, take the time to write out the context of the situation.

For messages short and quick, use SMS (text messaging)

If, for whatever reason, you’re unable to call and you need to send a message asking for one, or you have something pressing to discuss, go ahead and explain why. There is a good chance the person you’re emailing may be able to handle everything in their response and an ensuing game of phone tag may be avoided.

Emails are for longer messages. For messages short and quick, use SMS (text messaging), which stands for short message service. This is exactly what SMS is designed for.

The Angry Email

5. And please, no heated emails. Tone can be very difficult to interpret via written communication at times. However, there are those times when something comes in that is so scathing in tone or dripping with such sarcasm there is no question about the writer’s feelings. It is always much easier to vent in an email and click send than it would be to say the same things to a person directly, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. If need be, write your heated email and send it to yourself. Then, re-approach the email for the intended recipient when you’ve cooled down and can handle it more judiciously. Spreading negativity in business, whether it be verbal or written, is the antithesis to productive behavior.

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