© 2005 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved President, Ministry Business Services, Inc. Reprinted from Christian Management Report
Who would have thought a dozen years ago that most of our ministry communication would be electronic! Yet most of us now spend a large part of our day reading, writing, and responding to email— both within our organization and beyond.
Does it sometimes feel overwhelming? It does for me! Do you sometimes wonder whether there are etiquette and style guidelines you should be aware of? There are!
Email Can Be A Blessing?
I manage more than 100 emails in an average day. That takes a lot of time, and I admit that I don’t often think while in my email program, “What a blessing!” But it is! Email helps us communicate better and more quickly across the globe. And for less cost!
The part that doesn’t often feel like a blessing is the amount of time in my day that is now dedicated to the good use of this tool. There may be ways to manage it, though, that can help. Consider adopting the following disciplines:
Don’t feel like you need to respond to every email the moment it arrives.
- When your office day begins, check your email and only respond to those that are extremely urgent. Leave the rest for later.
- Focus for the next hour or two on non-email tasks.
- Mid-morning, re-visit your email to see what new emails have come in. Respond to those that are extremely urgent first, then manage the rest.
- After lunch, check your email and respond only to those that are extremely urgent. Leave the rest for later.
- Towards the end of the afternoon, check your email and respond to those that are extremely urgent, then manage those that remain.
It is okay to leave some emails for a later response! As a gracious courtesy, if your response might be more than 2-3 days away, send a quick reply letting the sender know you hope to respond within the next week or so to adjust their expectations.
The Nature of Email
Many organizations are finding that internal conflicts between people are on the rise. One Midwest company found electronic communications (email and IM) and internal conflicts were related! With that in mind, guidelines on good email etiquette may be helpful.
Email is inherently problematic in that it can’t include facial expressions and gestures, nor tone of voice. Instead, the tone of your email will be interpreted in a vacuum of personal warmth that will be influenced instead by the mood of the reader at the time it is read. Misunderstandings, at times, may be unavoidable.
Keep in mind that email leaves an electronic “paper trail” many corporations have come to regret. Caution is therefore needed when writing email as to appropriate content. A good question to have in the back of your mind is, “Could this information— or the way I’m phrasing it— ever come back to hurt?” If you think it could, then don’t send it.
Three Most Important Rules
- Slow down! Read what you wrote and spell check it before hitting send. This one rule will help more than any other and will save a lot of embarrassment and pain.
- When reading your email before sending it, put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Ask how you would feel when reading what you wrote, and edit as necessary.
- Warning! Email is not private! Never write anything you don’t want made public.
When addressing email, three possibilities exist:
- The To field is where you address those with whom you are directly communicating. Everyone in the To and the CC fields can see these addresses.
- The CC field is where you address those with whom you are indirectly communicating, or copying. This is the FYI crowd. Everyone in the To and the CC fields can see these addresses.
- The BC field is where you address someone whose address you don’t want any other recipients to see. Because this field is sometimes used unethically, consider the following guidelines:
- Never send an email and blind copy the To addressee’s supervisor. If you’re copying someone in authority over the To recipient, CC them rather than BC them.
- If you’re sending email to a list of recipients, it is best to BC each recipient rather than sharing everyone’s email address with the entire list. This respects privacy and can help prevent subsequent virus infections.
General Email Etiquette
- Subject Line. Always include a relevant subject line. Some email systems won’t accept an email without one, and this will help the recipient prioritize their time.
- Responding to Email. When responding to email, always include the original message below your response. Your recipient may find this helpful in understanding the context of your response. If the email you’re responding to is very long and you are only responding with an I agree or to one statement in their email, it’s acceptable to edit the original email’s quote for brevity. Just don’t change what was said.
- Greetings & Signatures. Always begin with a greeting and end with a signature. Including your name, position, organization, and contact information in your signature is an important courtesy in business emails.
- Attachments. As a courtesy, identify the file format of any attachments (i.e., attached is a file in PDF format).
- Large Attachments. Before sending a large attachment, always email first asking if doing so would be problematic.
- CAPITALS. Typing all capitals is considered shouting. Only use all capitals when that is your intent.
- Mood. Never send an email when you are angry or frustrated. If an immediate communication is necessary, use the telephone or meet with the person.
- Flaming. Never insult or criticize via email. Choose to work out differences face-to-face.
- Abbreviations. Only use common abbreviations the reader is likely to understand.
- Receipt Acknowledgements. When someone emails you, send a short acknowledgement to let them know you received it. For instance, if you invite someone to a meeting and they respond confirming they’ll be there, thank them for their confirmation.
- Quotes. When you quote someone other than the email recipient, CC that person so they know you quoted them.
- Sentence & Paragraph Length. Generally, shorter is better than longer. Also, separate paragraphs with a blank line.
- Immediately delete emails you receive when you don’t recognize the sender or when the subject line is questionable.
- Never run an executable file or script attached to an email.
- Never answer or try to unsubscribe to junk email.
The legal climate surrounding corporate email continues to heat up.
- Policy Adherence. Check to see if your organization has an email policy. If one exists, make certain you’re aware of its contents and abide by it.
- Conflicts. Emails concerning current or potential conflicts are rarely wise. Those conversations are best done in person or by telephone.
- Delete Email No Longer Needed. This will save space on your email server’s hard drive.
- Personnel Issues. Personnel issues are best discussed in person or by telephone unless the email is intended to become part of a personnel file.
- Personal Remarks. Keep it professional.
- Attachments. When attaching documents with possible legal implications, lock them with a password. My preference is to send them as locked PDFs secured from changes or copying.
- Junk Mail. Make sure all email is for essential communications. Forwarded warnings, jokes, and stories waste time and server space.
- Be Succinct. Keep your emails short, but make sure you also take the time to greet and sign each one in a friendly manner. When writing an email, I like to picture myself poking my head into someone’s office and greeting them, then presenting my message, and then saying goodbye.
- Urgent & High Priority. Only mark those messages that truly are urgent or high priority as such.
Email is a great tool that has improved our communication efficiency and effectiveness. Using it carefully and wisely will help safeguard our organizations and those with whom we work. These guidelines will help reduce interpersonal conflicts and help you communicate via email more effectively, making email a blessing.