Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Effective email communication

Communication and its various nuances always fascinate me. There are times when I realize, not always too late, that I have failed in communicating what I wanted to convey. It always ends up being a learning experience for me.

For most people, the word "communication" seems to remain confined to what one says or writes. But it's far, far more than that.

I wanted to share a few tips I have learned about effective email communication over the years. I've picked these up from observation as well as from friends and colleagues. I still commit some of these mistakes when I'm in a hurry but I hope I am getting better.
  •  Know your recipients. Tailor your email accordingly. Put yourself in their situation
    • Their awareness of what you're talking about. Do they have prior context and how much? 
    • Their environment e.g. Sharing a URL in your email that works only on Chrome (and they use Firefox), or sending URLs that don't work outside your office network.
    • Their focus e.g. Are they likely to single out one out of multiple points in the email and downplay the rest? How do you address any concerns that the recipient might have? Thinking about these beforehand might you save an email iteration or more.
  • Make your intentions clear. If there are actionables, point them out. If you know the owner of the action, point him/her out. If you don't, ask. If it's not an actionable email, mention it (FYI, JFYI) and explain why you are sending the email. 
  • Use a meaningful subject line
  • Use To, Cc and Bcc carefully
    • If you're addressing one or more people in the email body, you can put them in the To field
    • Be careful while Bcc'ing. If the Bcc'ed person does not realize she is Bcc'ed, she might respond to all and then everybody will know, which you might not have intended. If you're the Bcc'ed person, it's upto you to check the email headers and be cognizant of this.
    • Be careful while clicking Reply. You might have meant Reply-All. Gmail/Google Apps Mail have a setting where you can set Reply All as the default.
  • If the email thread has been going on for sometime, it's helpful to summarize everything, including repeating what has been already said, when a conclusion has been reached. 
  • Don't clear the previous content when you respond. People often have to look at the whole thread to regain context.
  • If the thread has forked off to another topic, or you want to do the forking, change the subject to something appropriate that suits the new topic.

Somebody said "Communication is about the receiver". If my recipient does not get what I'm trying to convey, I have failed, and not the recipient. This might sound extreme but it's an effective ideal to work towards.

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