Continuing Education

Commanding the Keyboard: Christine Dubois on Improving Email Effectiveness

It’s hard to imagine a world before email and even more boggling when you stop to consider how quickly it pervaded Imageour public and private lives. Though conceived in the 1970s, email did not successfully wend its way into our homes and businesses until the early 1990s. That is a speedy evolution for any communication technology. Truth be told, we’re still negotiating the best possible ways to reduce the stress and better manage our use of email, particularly in the workplace. Thankfully, instructor Christine Dubois offers up volumes of helpful insights with her class, Improving Email Effectiveness.

We all agree that digital communications platforms like email are both a blessing and a curse. “It's a convenient way to share information,” says Dubois. “But the average office worker now spends 28 percent of his or her time on email. That's 13 hours a week. And if you're constantly monitoring your email, you're interrupted every 3 minutes on average, which makes it difficult to concentrate on accomplishing anything else. More than 200 billion emails are sent every day. To use email effectively, we need to write clear, concise emails and take control of managing the email we receive.”

The challenges email offers can be particularly daunting to someone new to a workplace, especially when you consider each environment has its own culture relating to email. “You may find that what worked at your old job isn’t the norm in your new workplace,” says Dubois. “Archiving old email can be another challenge. In government agencies, email is a public record and needs to be filed and saved correctly.”

Email supersedes other forms of written communication because it calls for a particular tone, brevity and informational precision. “It's always good to get to the point, but that goes double for email,” says Dubois. “Before Imageyou start, ask yourself: What’s my main point? What do I need to tell this person, or what do I want her to do? Then start with that.”

Even though we may have a series of subjects we wish to cover, Dubois says it’s best to limit each email to one topic. “If you need to discuss several different topics, send separate emails. And keep them short. Five sentences per email is a good rule of thumb.” Subject lines require an equal level of brevity and specificity. “It's vital to choose a meaningful subject line. Not ‘Thursday's meeting.’ But ‘Thursday's meeting changed to 3 pm.’ That way folks get the message even if they don't open the email. Just like all business communication, it’s important to use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Be sure to proofread your email, especially if you're dictating it.”

Tone is something most of us manage out of hand when it comes to communicating with someone face-to-face, but we frequently lose touch with those nuances when we find ourselves behind a keyboard. “DON'T USE ALL CAPS! Seriously, all caps means you're shouting, and that’s rude,” says Dubois. “Tone is always a challenge in email since the receiver can’t see your body language or hear the smile in your voice. Sometimes conciseness can come off as rude or abrupt. Remember your manners. Phrases like ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘I appreciate your patience’ go a long way. And if you sense that you’ve offended someone, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and clear the air.”

Electronic communication also removes us from those protective buffers and boundaries we often take for granted when interacting with someone in person. When using email it is paramount we be very mindful of our emotional state. It’s far too easy to fire off a message in the heat of the moment, and the repercussions can be catastrophic. “Never send an email when you're angry,” says Dubois. “Save it in the draft folder and read it over the next morning when you're calmer. And remember that email isn't the best place to discuss sensitive issues. The problem with email is that once you hit that Send button, it's gone and there's no way to call it back. At that point, all you can do is apologize and promise it won't happen again.”

Dubois has numerous tips to aid in making the use of email less stressful that she looks forward to sharing with students. Top of the email management list is learning how to keep email from ruling your entire workday. “Too Imagemany people start their workday by checking their email, she says. “Instead, before you check your email, do one thing you need to do and one thing you want to do. Also, try to check email only at set times of the day. You’ll be less stressed and more productive.”

Dubois’ course in Improving Email Effectiveness will not simply offer students the opportunity to gain greater confidence in managing this vital workplace tool, it will also help to hone their writing skills. “The class is designed to help students use email more effectively,” says Dubois. “That takes a combination of writing better emails and managing the email they receive more efficiently. I hope students will leave class with new skills and ideas to help them do both.”

Learn more about Improving Email Effectiveness.

Photo credit #1: Web Brain Infotech_cc_2.0