We’re quickly becoming a paperless society. Technology has not only revolutionized the way business is conducted, but how we conduct ourselves and connect with each other. With these changes has the art of communication been sacrificed to the gods of speed?
Does anyone under 30 even use a pen anymore? Why would they, when elementary school boards decided to remove cursive writing from the curriculum, much to the horror of grandparents everywhere?
Understandably, keyboarding and texting skills are far more relevant and useful in today’s world, and heaven knows what texting will do to the evolution of our opposable thumbs, but there are some back-pocket life skills that may appear unnecessary and obsolete until they’re necessary.
in the era of the email and text is writing still a necessary skill?
We argue yes! Writing is a laborious, pedantic skill that forces one to think, to pause, to form coherent words and phrases. Time is built into the process for careful consideration, to review and check spelling and grammar - qualities that have been jettisoned in our rush to get our message out. That’s fine if you’re sharing a shot of your meal on Instagram; but it’s problematic when you’re doing business and need to come across as mature and professional.
Revolutionize doesn’t begin to describe what’s changed. Innovative technologies continue to affect every area of our lives. How we do business, the way we organize our lives, and how we relate to and interact with each other are unrecognizable from how we did so a decade ago.
While the rules of engagement have changed now that we’re communicating in the blink of an eye, we’re not necessarily communicating better. Email is a perfect example of a disruptive technology that we must adjust to. As business models continue to evolve, more entrepreneurs embrace independent, virtual workplaces, and the world grows smaller and smaller.
You want your email communications to get results. Sometimes you’d settle for a response. In many cases, email is your first contact with a potential client or a potential employer. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. What does your email say about you? Is it intelligent, mature, concise and grammatically correct, with no spelling errors? Is your subject line clearly informative or will it bounce to a junk folder? Is your email address professional, reflecting your name and organization, or is it reminiscent of your college days as a kegger?
Here are a few things to think about in your efforts to e-communicate more effectively.
1. there’s no substitution for good grammar and spelling
Don’t rely on spellcheck or autocorrect. Facebook is full of exchanges where autocorrect turned an intended meaning on its ear, or worse. Funny, yes, but embarrassing and undermining to your credibility as a professional. Get a dictionary (they still come in hard copy) or find one online.
Also, avoid complex sentence structure and too-sophisticated language. You want your message to be easily understood (at a glance on a smartphone), especially in today’s business world where you’re often communicating between countries, time zones, cultures, genders, generations and corporate levels within your organization.
2. use professional salutations in the workplace
‘Hey’ or ‘Hi Guys’ may get their attention but probably not in the way you hope. Where possible, use the receiver’s name with ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’. If you’re emailing a colleague with whom you’re very familiar and have a good rapport, you can certainly use a more casual approach. But be aware of the difference.
Similarly, save text-speak, emoticons, smiley faces, GIFs, and other personalization for recipients you know well. There’s no reason to include these in professional emails.
3. avoid hitting ‘reply all’ unless everyone needs to receive the email
With the volume of email most people receive, they’ll be grateful the chain stops with you. And some things are simply not meant to be shared. Remember, once it’s out there, it’s out there. There’s no way to delete an email once it hits someone else’s inbox.
4. put the intended email receiver in last
If you’ve ever had that ‘oh no’ moment after hitting ‘send’ before thoroughly checking your email, you’ll know why. Proofread thoroughly and again, don’t rely on spell check. When you put the intended receiver’s email address in, make sure you’ve got the right person. Sometimes, in our haste to get the job done, we miss the default ‘To’ and the email goes to the wrong person. If not embarrassing, it certainly looks sloppy.
(Bonus Tip: if you use Gmail there’s a hidden ‘Undo’ option you can turn on under settings. When enabled, you’ll have 30 seconds after you hit ‘send’ to undo your message (an alert will pop up with the option.) Hit undo and the intended recipient will never be the wiser that you sent them an email. This comes in handy when you accidentally hit send, when you forget an attachment, or when you spot a typo right as you send off an email.)
5. use email for short, simple requests and messages
Sometimes email isn’t the most effective means of communicating long, complex instructions, procedures or problem-solving. You may just have to pick up the phone or FaceTime someone to get your point across. Emails have a habit of becoming long chains. If readers feel they have to shimmy up a rope to get back to the original purpose, it may be best to consider other options.
6. keep in mind everyone receives and processes information differently
That’s especially true in our wonderfully diverse workplaces, where cultural differences may lead to misunderstandings, especially with email where facial cues and body language can’t be read. So be careful when using slang or humour – many people who aren’t as fluent or comfortable with your language may not be as familiar with its nuances.
Keep your email communications professional and to-the-point. Our final words of e-wisdom? Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want everyone to read and don’t send anything to anyone you wouldn’t say to their face. Technology is developing fast but so far, it isn’t able to protect us from ourselves.