Magazine article Work & Family Life

Avoiding the Pitfalls and Enjoying the Pleasures of E-Mail

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Avoiding the Pitfalls and Enjoying the Pleasures of E-Mail

Article excerpt

These days people are calling e-mail the "casual Friday" of business communication. We like it, but it can be a little too casual.

Most of us are aware of the pitfalls of e-mail. We're more careful about sending messages that could get us in trouble. We try not to SHOUT with all caps. We know that most people are too busy to read jokes-and that acknowledgments like "thx 4 ur help" fall a bit short.

Remember what it's good for

Think of e-mail as another band of communication, and the greater the bandwidth, the deeper the impression, says

Sandra E. Lamb, author of How to Write It: A Complete Guide to Everything You'll Ever Write (Ten Speed Press). She lists "bandwidth" in this order: face-to-face, phone call, voice mail, letter, memo and e-mail. So while e-mail is good for many kinds of communication, it still does not replace sitting down with someone and talking face-to-face.

Convenience factor

There's a lot to be said for the convenience of e-mail. "It's a polite communication," says Kate. "Why interrupt someone with a phone call when you don't need to?"

Over time, we get to know how people handle their e-mail, which makes communication even easier. Some people check their e-mail continually. Others take a day or two, and many people send automated messages to let you know they're away.

Some e-mailers embed their replies into the message they received, especially with longer communications. We all need to be careful when we add our own message to other messages. "I hastily sent e-mail to a third party that contained a privileged communication from my boss," says Alice. "It was embarrassing to me and to him."

What e-mail is not good for

Confidential personnel decisions and highly personal messages do not belong in workplace e-mail. Nor should it be used for strong criticism or for blowing off steam. "No nastygrams," says business consultant William Lampton. "Something in cold print looks much harsher, and the recipient's first impulse is to fire back."

This is another reason to re-read our email before clicking the Send button. "I'm very careful what I say," says Jose. "Critical comments out there in cyberspace have a way of getting forwarded or 'BCCed' to the wrong person. …

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