Friday, June 15, 2007

When You Need to Send a Message, Determine If Email Is Appropriate

The following is an excerpt from my new book, 135 Tips to Writing Emails, Instant Messages & More, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in the spring of 2008:

Here’s a real-life scenario: I had an appointment to meet a client in downtown Boston one morning at 9:00, and I called the day before to confirm the appointment. On the morning of the meeting the weather was dreadful. I knew that the heavy rain and fog would make driving slow, so I left very early. When I arrived at my client’s office a little before 9:00, she looked at me in quizzically and asked, “What are you doing here? Didn’t you get my message?”

This is what happened… My client was working late the night before hoping to finish something in time for our meeting. She realized she wouldn’t be ready. So at 8:30 in the evening she shot off an email letting me know we had to reschedule. (I have a life and don’t read email at 8:30 in the evening.) I left very early in the morning without having checked my email; therefore, I didn’t get her message. Had she called me, I would have known not to drive in. That was clearly a situation of the sender not understanding the best means of communicating with me, the recipient.

Before you send a message, ask yourself, “What’s the best way to deliver the message?” Email? Letter? Memo? Fax? Phone? Face to face?” Following are some scenarios and the most appropriate way to deliver each message:

You want to remind Pete about a staff meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning at 10:00 in Room C.
Email. A quick email would be appropriate.

It’s the day of the meeting with Pete and you just found out the meeting will be at 9:30, instead of 10:00. You must let Pete know of the change.
Call. You may also send an email, but make a call your first line of defense when something is time-sensitive.

You received a reply to an email you sent, and the person has several questions about your message.
Call. When something is unclear to the reader, it’s much more appropriate to have a two-way conversation.

You’re a high-level manager and have important company information to share with all employees.
Memo. Memos communicate a sense of importance, whereas emails communicate a sense of quickness. Even in this high tech age, memos are a primary way for managers to communicate important information.

You want to send someone a warm, sincere thank you.
Handwritten letter or note. A letter or note is to a passionate love affair what email is to a one-night stand.

You want to schedule a meeting with a client.
Call. It’s much easier to schedule a meeting when you both have your calendars in front of you. Otherwise, there’s a lot of back and forth as to who can and can’t make certain dates and times.

You need to criticize someone’s job performance.
Face to face. Two-way communication will give each person a chance to comment and create a discussion.

Your colleague’s father died.
Card or personalized note. A card offers a canned expression of sympathy, and a personalized note expresses your own special sentiment. I’ve read recently, however, that many people find emails acceptable to express condolences because the medium offers a sense of immediacy that snail mail doesn’t.

You want to send out a press release about your company.
Email followed by call. Which method of communication is more effective is an ongoing debate in the world of journalism. When you send an email, it piques interest and reduces the chances of being misquoted. However, journalists may want to verify facts, ask you questions, and hear your tone of voice. To cover your bases, consider sending an email and following it up with a phone call.

Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. http://www.sherylwrites.com/