Correspondence that once took days or weeks to arrive at its destination, now takes just seconds. Email allows us to cut across time zones, making communication simpler and faster.
But email has its problems. This is especially true in the workplace, where expressing yourself clearly is so essential. Email speed can often damage the matters that require thought and reflection. We all know how easily the tone of an email can be misconstrued.
So, what are the dangers of email in the workplace, and how can we ensure that our correspondence does not land us in the metaphorical 'junk folder' of our colleagues or bosses?
Get the Right Tone
When you're using email it's crucial to remember that it is faceless and voiceless. Off-the-cuff remarks can work fine when accompanied by a smiling face and light tone, but how do the words themselves sound?
Brief remarks can come across as abrupt, a quick question as angry or terse. What does it mean if you don't sign off? A lot of emails end abruptly with no sign-off or signature of any kind. Unless the tone of your email is absolutely clear, signing off with "cheers," "thanks" or "all the best" clarifies your intended tone and should ensure that the message is received in the way it is meant.
Take Your Time
An email pops into your inbox. Less than one minute later you have read, digested the message and responded. In the days when letters were a regular form of communication, you were forced to consider exactly what you wanted to say. Email has removed this necessity and now the hasty response is all too easy.
If you're writing an angry response, do think twice before you click send. Sleeping on the matter could be an excellent idea. Why not email back, "Let me think about it overnight. I'll get back to you in the morning." You'll be glad you did.
Check the "to" Field
The reply all button might be the most dangerous button there is. Double- and triple-check that your message only goes to the intended recipients.
Sending anything, confidential or not, around your entire organization is certainly embarrassing.
Don't Overuse the CC
One surefire way to upset your colleagues is by copying every person in the office into your emails. Copies are often sent to too many people. We cc others to publicly reprimand someone and look important, to cover ourselves and to impress others. All of these reasons will result in bad feeling, lack of respect or worse.
If you want action, just send the email to one person alone. If others really need to know about the communication, send it to them separately.
Just Don't Do It
There are times when sending an email should be avoided altogether. Your office email is also often the property of the company, since it pays for the email system. Companies will have the right to search employees' mailboxes, so make sure that there's nothing in there you wouldn't want the bosses to read. Don't use email as a chance to send unkind comments about your coworkers, as people have lost their jobs for sending jokes which they meant as harmless office gossip but which stood up against them after a complaint was made.
The Bottom Line
Your email ending up in a colleague's junk folder could be the least of your worries. Email has caused many an office confrontation and, at the other end of the spectrum, has appeared as evidence in a fair number of courtrooms.
Email has changed the way we communicate and work. Let us not forget that we managed rather well without it for centuries. Perhaps sometimes it's just better to try that old fashioned method of communication: conversation.