Email: 7 hints to handle it with care

Email is one of those things we take for granted these days. It has been there for years. For some of us it is much more frequent to send an email than to make a phone call. It is one of the most essential and mundane tools in an interconnected age. As such it would be wise to learn some basics and tricks that could help us to make the most of it, and foremost, to avoid pitfalls that could lead we to some really bitter experiences.

Here are 7 hints to handle it properly: 

1. 5 FINGERS, 5 Emails. If you come into a thread of more than four or five emails coming back and forth, do not send another one. Either the message is too complex to communicate through email or something is not clear enough. Pick-up the phone and talk to the other person, or organize a conference call so you can get it straight. 

2. NEVER EVER, ever, write an email angry. If you come into a disagreement or something really disappoints you, do not write an email until you make sure you have cooled down completely. Otherwise you risk raising wheals that you may not want to raise. Especially if there are people copied. I learned this one the hard way years ago. 

3. TARGET only people that really need to know what you are talking about. It is annoying to get an email copied to the entire company because the sender tries to get a quick response. Also avoid a cc. to the CIO or the CEO on your first attempt to escalate an issue. You don’t want to jump too high too soon. 

If you are unsure ask your manager or team lead. They have a better line of sight than you and they may even want to take some subjects up by themselves. 

4. SUBJECT line is there for reason. Use it to communicate directly what the email is about. This will save some valuable time and focus. If you need something back you can try something like: Advice Required> or Answer Required> or Action Required>, followed by the topic. Take advantage of abbreviations like FYI, FW, RE or NWR

5. KEEP it simple. You are writing an email, not a science fiction novel. As such you should be able to communicate a point in three lines or less. Otherwise it is too much and you would lose the attention of your reader. You should have only a few points to cover in the entire email. 

Some of us tend to write with many words and accounting details. If you are like us then take the time to properly craft it and summarize it. Also feel free to question if you need a call or a meeting instead. 

6. LAYOUT is your friend. You can cover different points for different audiences in the same email. In these cases it is pretty useful to use bullets, bold fonts, changes in margins or colors to accommodate it in a way that is clean and easy to understand for the different parties involved. 

MS Outlook has configuration options to allow you use a different color every time you reply to an email thread. A similar color trick can also become handy for example when you are replying with answers to questions. 

7. EMAILS don’t get things done. PEOPLE get things done. This is a very important one because we tend to forget about it. At the end of the day Email is not a real time communication tool. There are several reasons while our urgent email can sit in an inbox for quite a while. If you urgently need an action make sure to pick up the phone. 

Till next week! 
- Sergio Calvo

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