While companies are focusing on potential security risks associated with mobile e-mail access there is a much greater issue . . . proper business protocol

NOTE: The following post is from today’s Remarkable Leader Blog by Roz Usheroff.

Email is valuable, if only because so many of us have the habit of being indiscrete both in form and style.

Rather than letting corporate secrets out the bag, I suspect that email management and security is more to do with ensuring the world doesn’t see how irreverent and profane the workforce can be. As if that was likely to be a shock to anyone in the first place.

from the November 28th ZDNet article “Does governance really matter?” by Dennis Howlett

While there has been significant media attention as of late on cloud governance and security including e-mail management, as highlighted above a potentially greater problem has more to do with individual indiscretion than technical vulnerability.

Here are a number of important tips to consider before you put pen to paper or more appropriately keystroke to screen.

Increasingly, an email — whether initiated by you or forwarded on your behalf – is your first business contact with a prospective client, business partner or colleague. Email interactions now outnumber telephone and in-person contact by a wide margin — even with colleagues sitting in the next cubicle.

Do not mistake the ease and speed of typing and sending an email with any erosion of the rules of business. Even when checking email at an airport, tapping out a reply with your thumbs on a smartphone, your brand hangs in the balance of each keystroke.

So, let’s take a step back and make sure we have not fallen into too many bad habits, often born of simply moving too fast. Look your last email in the mirror and make sure it looks, sounds and feels as put together as you are. Brand yourself smart, sharp, considerate, professional and current by doing the following:

* Choose your wardrobe. Using fancy fonts, colorful backgrounds and smiling, winking or crying emoticons are the electronic equivalent of dressing inappropriately at work. Or at least be discretionary to the right audience. Save your party dress or lime green tie for the weekend. Don’t make your recipient switch fonts to respond, because you set the background on your email on dark blue or grey.

* Choose your venue. Ask yourself if this is a conversation you could have in a restaurant or would it be better suited for the privacy of an office or conference room? If it is a private conversation, keep it that way, by picking up the phone or having the meeting in person because you can never guarantee an email exchange will remain private.

* Get the right people in the room. If the interaction is suitable for email, then choose your cc list carefully; it is the electronic version of inviting others into the meeting. Sending an email requesting action from someone and simultaneously copying their boss can send the message: “I don’t trust you.” Make sure it is appropriate to include their boss in the conversation before doing so.

* Fine tune your virtual handshake. Address the recipient directly, professionally and politely. Begin with a greeting and end with a courteous closing.

* Joking can be easily perceived as sarcasm.  Voice inflection conveys subtleties in live communication but email text is text.  Humor gets misunderstood and some may not even pick up on it. Using bracketed words such as LOL may inform your audience of your intentions provided that they understand your sense of humor. (FYI, in email parlance LOL means “laughing outloud.”) Also, don’t say anything derogatory about a colleague that could jeopardize your relationship with them.

* Err on the side of formality. Email and text messages are completely different mediums. Never ask someone “2 get bck 2 u ASAP” in an email. Use formal, business-style language.

* Be consistent in every email. Don’t let time shortchange you from crafting professional concise emails. Write like you are addressing your president, using language that best showcases your professionalism and messaging.

* Make your subject line work for you.  Inform the reader about the contents in six words or less. Avoid capital letters, lots of exclamation points or dollar signs – the trademark of a spammer. Change the subject line when you reply back and the topic has changed.

* Respect your recipient’s time. Just as you would be respectful of someone’s time in a meeting, be direct and get to the point in the text of your email. If you are asking for action by your recipient, make sure they see that before they toss your email into the “too long to read right now” pile. Too much information in your status updates will make people half-heartedly absorb your message. Also, don’t flood your business partners with unnecessary FYIs.

* Check your watch. Be conscious of what time you send an email. Sending one at 2:00 a.m. can brand you as disorganized or inconsiderate, unless you make it clear you are not looking for an immediate response or that you are in Tokyo. A better alternative might be to program your email to arrive during your recipient’s work day. In Microsoft Outlook, you do that by using the “Delay Delivery” function.

* Ask, don’t tell; speak don’t shout. “Return receipt requested” is a cyber version of Glenn Close shouting, “I will NOT be ignored,” in the movie “Fatal Attraction.” Don’t use this email function unless you have a very good reason. Never type ANYTHING IN ALL CAPS. It is widely considered cyber shouting even if you only meant to add emphasis.

* Put yourself in recipient’s shoes. Is there a double meaning in your phrases?  Saying “I tried calling without success” might cause the recipient to conclude that you are blaming them for ignoring your calls.

* Walk around the block. If you do feel like shouting, it is best to cool down before you hit “reply.” It is tricky enough to get the tone of any email right. In the absence of visual or voice cues they are highly susceptible to misinterpretation. If you receive an email that makes you hot under the collar, it is probably better to pick up the phone to work things out. If you pop off an angry email, chances are, it will end up being viewed and interpreted beyond your intended audience. Protect your brand. Walk around the block first.

* Get your flu shot. Make sure you stay current with anti-virus protection on your computer. Passing a virus by email brands you technologically out of date.

* Weigh your luggage. Email attachments that are too large can tie up your recipient’s inbox and wreak havoc on their smartphone. Be conscious and considerate. If you have a large file to transfer, ask your recipient when and how they would prefer to receive it.

* Keep your signature simple. Remember, your email represents you. If you have never met your recipient, they are looking for cues and clues about who you are. Think about what your signature lines say about you. Keep them simple, useful and professional by just including basic contact information such as name, title, company name, email address, telephone number and website address.

* Avoid being a poet or a preacher. It has become popular to add a favorite quote after your email signature. I do it myself. After researching this newsletter, however, I am suggesting you think this through carefully. Some email experts suggest avoiding quotes altogether. If you do use one, make sure it is not controversial, religious, political, preachy or just plain odd.

* Set yourself apart. Manage the image of your emails as you would your appearance in a job interview. After all, aren’t we always being judged?

So, my cyber-savvy friends, how did you do? If your email shoes needed a little polish, don’t fret. Mine did too. My best advice is simply to read each missive one more time before launching “virtual you” around the world. Your business and your brand depend on it.


2 Responses to “While companies are focusing on potential security risks associated with mobile e-mail access there is a much greater issue . . . proper business protocol”
  1. piblogger says:

    Here is an interesting twist to our discussion from ABC News . . . Tech Firm Implements Employee ‘Zero Email’ Policy (http://news.yahoo.com/tech-firm-implements-employee-zero-email-policy-165311050.html).

    The real question is this . . . is abstinence as opposed to education in the proper use of e-mail the right way to go?

  2. Bravo! As a former Information Manager for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, I cannot say how important your email management suggestions are to a professional communication. We do represent ourselves through email communication and in an arm of government that deals with foreign correspondence daily…..a hihg degree of professional behavior is essential in maintaining good international relations…..again, excellent advice!

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