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Nuisance or necessity?

Marlene Olsen

Do you ever think of email communication as anything but a necessity and nuisance? You should.

When answering emails, I have a habit of being as short and abrupt as possible, sort of like blurting out an answer in the office.

I really do know that this is bad email etiquette and I usually excuse it away lack of time.

Then, I received an answer to an email from a former CEO of a Fortune 500 Company who is starting a new company here in Reno.

It was probably the most polite email I have ever received: with a formal salutation, when he would follow up and a formal close.

I had asked him for a favor and he even started out by telling me it was his pleasure to help.

The email made me stop and think.

Compared to the way most of us answer the volley of emails, I bet this one only took 10 seconds longer.And, it made a lasting impression.

That was six months ago.

Email communication might be only oneon- one communication, but imagine how many lasting and positive impressions you can make every day.

The sum total could be enormous.

You can also set yourself apart from the competition and make your computer time kinder and gentler.

I have several suggestions to get you started on your own style of email etiquette.

Rule 1: Remember the human.

The golden rule that your parents and kindergarten teacher taught you was pretty simple.Do unto others, as you’d have others do unto you.

Imagine how you’d feel if you were in the other person’s shoes and remember the human.

When you communicate electronically, all you see is a computer screen.You don’t have the opportunity to use facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice to communicate your meaning.Words lonely written words are all you have.

Stop and address the person you are communicating with: Hi,Hello, Dear, Greetings, etc.

And use his or her name.

Rule 2: Be courteous.

When you’re holding a conversation online it’s easy to misinterpret your correspondent’s meaning.

And it’s frighteningly easy to forget that your correspondent is a person with feelings more or less like your own.

Sometimes I have written in all caps, because I didn’t realize the caps lock was on, and the interpretation on the other end is that I was agitated at the person.

Humans exchanging email often behave the way some people behind the wheel of a car do like savages.Most of them would never act that way at work or at home.

But the interposition of the machine seems to make it acceptable.

The message here is it’s not acceptable.Yes, use your network connections to express yourself freely.

But remember, there are real people out there and your emails really are permanent and savable.You also don’t get the opportunity to back-peddle when you say something wrong.

Thank people for contacting you, tell them when you will get back to them,write in complete thoughts and don’t assume they know all of your cute cyber-abbreviations.

Rule 3: Respect other people’s time and bandwidth.

It’s a cliche that people today seem to have less time than ever before, even though we sleep less and have more labor-saving devices than our grandparents did.When you send email, you’re taking up other people’s time or hoping to.

It’s your responsibility to ensure that the time they spend reading your email isn’t wasted.

The word “bandwidth” is sometimes used synonymously with time, but it’s really a different thing.

Bandwidth is the informationcarrying capacity of the wires and channels that connect everyone in cyberspace.

There’s a limit to the amount of data that any piece of wiring can carry at any given moment.When you copy people who really don’t need to know, you are wasting both time (of the people who check all five copies of the posting) and bandwidth (by sending repetitive information over the wires and requiring it to be stored somewhere).

Today, it’s easy to copy practically anyone on your email.And we sometimes find ourselves copying people almost out of habit.

In general, this is rude.

People have less time than ever today, precisely because they have so much information to absorb.

Before you copy people on your messages, ask yourself whether they really need to know.

If the answer is no, don’t waste their time.

If the answer is maybe, think twice before you hit the send key.

Rule 4: Make yourself look good online.

Use quality writing, correct spelling, complete sentences and proper grammar, just like you would for a formal business letter.

In addition, make sure your notes are clear and logical.

Finally, be pleasant and polite.Don’t use offensive language, and don’t be confrontational for the sake of confrontation.

Rule 5: Share expert knowledge.

Finally, after all my directives, here is some positive advice.

The strength of cyberspace is in its numbers.

The reason asking questions online works is that a lot of knowledgeable people are reading the questions.

And if even a few of them offer intelligent answers, the sum total of world knowledge increases.

The Internet itself was founded and grew because scientists wanted to share information.

Gradually, the rest of us got in on the act.

It’s especially polite to share the results of your questions with others.When you anticipate that you’ll get a lot of answers to a question, or when you post a question to a forum or discussion group, it’s customary to request replies by email instead of to the group.When you get all those responses,write up a summary and post it to the discussion group.

That way, everyone benefits from the experts who took the time to write to you.

If you’ve researched a topic that you think would be of interest to others,write it up and post it.

Sharing your knowledge is fun.

It’s a long-time net tradition.

And it makes the world a better place.

By taking a little extra time, someone just might return the favor or take the time to answer someone else in the same way.

After I finished writing this, I thought not rocket science here, nothing new.

So,why should I submit this for publication? Well, plowing through each day, I know that I need constant reminders on slowing down and enjoying what I do.

So, I hope this is a reminder to you.

This is also an easy way to set yourself apart from your competition and to set a good example for your staff.

Try it and see if it makes a difference in the way people respond to you.

Marlene Olsen is the president of Olsen & Associates Public Relations, Inc.

in Reno.

Contact her by email at molsen@o-apr.com.


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