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Don't Let E-mail Botch Your Career

February 1, 1998
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With the use of e-mail growing as a form of office communication, it's important to know how not to use e-mail for career advancement, according to Atlanta-based Emory W. Mulling, president of The Mulling Group, an outplacement firm:

  • Don't deliver bad news. You can't inflect a concerned tone or facial expression in an e-mail message as you could in person.

  • Don't challenge a co-worker's idea. Talk it through in person if you have suggestions or changes on an idea. People tend to interpret e-mail in a negative tone, so your critique may be misunderstood.

  • Don't use e-mail to avoid conflict. Management by computer doesn't allow co-workers the chance to respond to your accusations as they could face to face. This makes you a less-effective manager and you'll lose the respect of your team.

  • Don't delay your response. E-mail allows people to communicate quickly, so if a response is requested, send one right away. If you need time to follow up on the answer, send a quick e-mail saying you're acting on the request. On the flip side, if a response isn't required, don't send one. You'll only crowd up the system and waste people's time.

  • Don't send e-mail written in an emotional state of mind. Wait a few hours, or even a day, and re-read your e-mail to be sure it delivers your message appropriately.

  • Don't copy people unless it's absolutely necessary. You'll get a reputation as a junk e-mail source and people will begin to ignore your transmissions altogether.

  • Don't write long messages. Use e-mail for brief transmissions that can be read and erased easily, with bullet points to separate ideas. If your message is lengthy, send a memo on paper.

  • Don't get lazy with style and grammar. Just like a written memo, e-mail messages should be edited carefully. Offer training classes and give private critiques to be sure everyone uses it effectively.

  • Don't ignore negative reactions. If your co-workers react strongly, either in person or through e-mail, perhaps your tone and style are inappropriate. Solicit honest feedback from your readers and take extra care editing your message before sending.

  • Don't assume all companies are alike. If you change jobs, style and use of e-mail acceptable for your former employer may not be appropriate with the new company. Observe how others use it to be sure your use will have impact.

Workforce, February 1998, Vol. 77, No. 2, p. 21.

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