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7 tips for effective email interpretation

‘In communications, familiarity breeds apathy.’ – Advertising Icon William Bernbach

To twist the above quote around a bit, I believe it’s safe to say that when it comes to electronic communications, familiarity often breeds misunderstanding. Each and every day, our inboxes are flooded with hundreds of emails ranging from the critical to the mundane, and we are forced to sort through, categorize and then respond appropriately – all within the space of a few hours so we don’t seem unresponsive.

Whether it comes to our business relationships or our personal lives, the challenge to communicate both enough and effectively can seem overwhelming. I recently read several great tips from author and remodeler Mark Richardson and  Jodi R.R. Smith, author of “From Clueless to Class Act” that I’m striving to implement in my own communications, and I wanted to share them with you.

  1. Quickest isn’t always best. Many times, we send emails because they are time efficient, but some critical or subtle messages are best delivered via phone or in person, where they are far less subject to misinterpretation.
  2. Think before you react. The tendency to hit reply instantly is particularly overwhelming when you are dealing with a brusque email. Before you respond and potentially escalate a situation, take a step back and try to determine whether the message was actually as negative as it first sounded or if a hasty reply from a harried sender just made it seem so.
  3. Rewind your replies. It goes without saying, but use that reply all button sparingly, or you may be annoying recipients who don’t need to be copied or inadvertently creating an email trail that you’ll later regret.
  4. Take the time. Email is instant, but your response doesn’t always need to be. Take the appropriate amount of time to provide a genuine response or to get an answer if needed. You should follow your company’s email policy, but a one or two-day turnaround time is required for business emails, while a week is acceptable for social emails.
  5. Consider the source. Everyone uses emails and communicates in them differently – some much more effectively and politely than others. If you look at the substance of the message and not the communications style, you’ll be less distracted and able to focus on what really matters – effectively communicating your response.
  6. Hands off. Checking and sending messages on your cell phone, iPad or other handheld device while in the company of others should be only done when absolutely necessary.  Whether business or personal, your focus should be on personal interactions with the individual in front of you, not an electronic device.
  7. Sender Beware. Before you forward any promotional or warning email, be sure the content is accurate. Many myths circulate in cyberspace, and you don’t want to get a reputation for passing along inaccurate content.
By Pam Palmer
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