5 February 2013

The E-mail Dance and How to Cyber-Swing with Grace and Manners!

When I grew up ballroom dancing was considered a social grace worth teaching. Some of my mates’ mums were pretty classy on the dance floor, so the local youth club asked them to run some dancing lessons. Along with that elegant skill they also decided we needed a few rough edges knocked off, so a few lessons on dance floor etiquette and good manners were thrown in.

The dance may have changed, the platform might be under our fingers instead of our feet, but etiquette is also relevant in the world of cyberspace, and nowhere more so than email.

Let’s take a small look at the world of manners, courtesy and thoughtfulness – cyber-style.

When You’re Angry:

You’ve just read something that lifts your blood pressure just about to boiling point? Fingers poised, you’re about to sort them out.

‘I’ll tell that so-and-so just what I think of them and their stupid idea!’ you fume.

Don’t.

As long as your system isn’t programmed to empty your Trash Can at the end of each day, hit Delete and sleep on it for a night. Don’t answer until the next day. It will still be waiting there for you tomorrow, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll forget something that made you so mad!

Benefits:

  • It’s out of your face and not nagging every time you go to handle your other mail
  • By the next day you’ve calmed down
  • Overnight your sub-conscious has come up with the right way to handle the matter.

When The Mail Is Going to More Than One Person:

If you’re sending mail to more than one person, use ‘bcc’ (blind carbon copy) instead of ‘cc’ (carbon copy). If the ‘bcc’ option doesn’t show when you start a New Message, click on either the little ‘To’ or ‘Cc’ buttons. Your address book will open up, and the bcc option will show.

Probably most of us have misused this facility at least once in our lives. When I first started sending my ‘Top Time Tips’ out, I had around 600 people with emails in my database. I did know about the bcc feature, but the second time I mailed out, by mistake I hit the cc button. Oh dear – talk about a red face! The worst offence was the very busy corporate client who couldn’t quickly get the rest of his mail, whilst working off a slow and expensive overseas hotel modem. He rather firmly requested removal from my mailout list!

Group Discussion Required:

If mail has been broadcasted to a group, and you want to include the others in your reply, use ‘Reply All’ instead of ‘Reply’. This is very useful when a group needs to discuss something – everyone gets the whole story and it can save a lot of time. However, be very judicious about this – folk have been known to deeply embarrass themselves.

Check Your Grammar and Spelling:

Email is fast, dynamic, and more relaxed. It’s the junk food tool of communication – convenient and quickly delivered! However, let’s not get too junky! Many of us cringe when we receive a badly spelt and ungrammatical note from someone who would normally never dream of sending out scruffy work.

Although email is a much more casual medium than regular letters, it is still relevant to use good grammar, and to quickly proof your work before you hit that Send button.

Of course young people (and some not so young) are becoming expert texters, turning abbreviations into a communication art form. Maybe this issue of spelling and presentation will change one day, but for now, badly written and ungrammatical messages tell a lot more about the sender than some people realise. It also sends a message about the organisation.

Did you know there’s a spell-check in most email programmes? You can set it to automatically check as soon as you click ‘Send’. Check your Tools features. With Outlook and Outlook Express go Tools, Options, Spelling and tick the elements you want.

Group Lists:

Like everything else to do with email, group lists are a fabulous time saver, and can be a curse if abused.

Maybe you don’t know how to use them. Suppose you want to send regular information to all your syndicate, or some community group you’re involved with. First, make sure each person is already in your email address book. From the Tool Bar, choose Addresses, New, New Group, give the Group a name, and then choose Select Members. You’ll be stepped through the process. At any time you can add or delete a group member.

The next time you want to send mail to that group, just type the group name in the ‘To’ panel of your new message, and Hey Presto – they’re all there.

So, how can it go wrong? Very easily. Suppose that staff member moves out of your syndicate into another one, or that BOT member moves on. If you haven’t amended your list, they continue to get the mail. In bigger organisations the moderator (or owner) of the group isn’t always told. In large organisations it can be a major challenge. Of course there is responsibility on both sides, but if you’re the recipient of such mail, take a moment and ‘reply’ – asking to be removed.

Staff in the Sydney-based branch of a very large international IT company regularly received invitations to morning tea. The mails would read something like: ‘Bill’s shout – chocolate cake in the staff room at 10am.’ Only trouble was – the staff room under discussion was in San Francisco! They could have replied, ‘Thanks mate – just a jiffy – we’ll be there in 22 hours!’

Argumentative Mail:

Don’t do it, or if you’re a principal, don’t let it happen in your organisation. It’s very difficult to get the tone right in writing at any time, and email seems even more challenging, at least in part because of its swift transmission. If something is contentious, there is no substitute for picking up the phone, or having a face-to-face meeting.

CYA (otherwise known as Cover Your A….!):

This can be a real nuisance. The use of group mail-outs makes it even more challenging. Again, if you’re a principal and see this going on, stamp it out as much as you can. If you’re on a group mailing list where it happens, find a polite way to discourage the sender from playing that particular game. If it keeps happening, endeavour to get off that group list.

In all of this email netiquette (and there’s more we might cover next time), the critical point to remember is the combined hours of potentially wasted time whilst people flick irrelevant mail back and forth. There are horrific statistics on how much time is wasted in any reasonable sized workplace. Most schools are not as deluged (yet) as many corporates – work hard at staying that way! (Did you know that some people receive between 200-300 emails per day?) I think you’ve got more important things to do!





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