Curbing email rage at the office: some golden rules


Email is an important communication tool today in all organizations. However, abuse and misuse can contribute to poor performance and poor team spirit. Organizations often neglect to set simple rules and guidelines to help managers and employees communicate more effectively through emails. Managers and team members often fail to understand the negative impact bad practice can have on colleagues and subordinates in this important area. Here are some golden rules I would always promote and include in an email-users charter for all organizations:

  • Always remain calm and cool-headed. Expressing anger and frustration in writing only makes things worse and aggravates the problem (supposing there is one in the first place). Talk to the person directly if there seems to be an issue. Don’t react to an email that seems to offend because it’s only stoking the flames.
  • Always remain polite. Using insulting or derogatory terms serves no purpose. Think twice before reacting and again, putting something in writing only makes things worse and only devalues the author of the comments.
  • Always be positive. Don’t berate or criticize ideas expressed by someone in a previous mail. Again, comments made in writing have much more impact and are more enduring than anything said in haste. Be hard on the problem and not on the person. Be direct and frank by all means but do not criticize the person.
  • Keep it simple and use normal police and characters. Never put whole sentences in capital and/or bold letters to ensure your reader gets the point. THIS IS OFTEN EQUIVALENT TO SHOUTING AT SOMEONE BY EMAIL. People can read and don’t need to have the important points highlighted. Such practice also sends the message that you don’t trust them to understand the point you feel is critical.
  • Keep it short. Don’t confuse emails with internal memos. Emails should be short and to the point.
  • Don’t write if you can speak directly to the person. If the person is in the next room, note the point down and go and see the person. Direct contact is always best.
  • Limit the number of persons you copy. Putting the world and his wife on copy creates information overload. If you have to copy others, be selective and decide on who really needs to know (think RASCI if necessary for important subjects).
  • Set limits as to when to send emails: if the user has a blackberry or other means of sending mails out of office hours, he or she should wait until a civilized moment to send a mail. There is no point in sending an email at 1 am in the morning if the person won’t open it before 9 am the same day. This doesn’t give the right message to team members and invades the private sphere because it supposes that the team member receiving the message is prepared to do the same. If you have to work late, OK. But save the mail and send it at the appropriate moment. If the message is really urgent, use the phone and apologize for the disturbance.
  • Solve the problem, don’t write about it: If there is a problem, don’t hide behind emails. Step in and address the problem or speak to the person responsible. Don’t hide behind an email because the problem will remain unsolved and only get worse.
  • Use Globish : if you work for an international organization and need to communicate with team members in different countries, use simple English and avoid slang, irony and abbreviations as readers from  different cultures won’t necessarily understand the slang or abbreviations or be able to decode the subtext behind irony or understatement.

What golden rules would you promote?

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