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Risks of e-mail at work

By | March 21st 2009

By Tania Ngima

A department head in a certain sitcom discovers that her boss has made a decision she does not agree with. In a burst of fury, she types a long rude e-mail telling him exactly what she thinks of his actions and leaves it in draft while she goes for lunch. Another colleague seeing this as the perfect way to orchestrate her downfall sends the e-mail, not only to the boss but all concerned parties. Drama ensues, resulting, surprisingly, in a promotion of the department head in what is now being seen as a publicity stunt.

In real life, however, such a stunt would result in hearing the words ‘You’re fired’ faster than you can blink. Technology has brought with it the possibility of communicating with people halfway across the world from the comfort of your seat. It stands to reason then, that e-mail is the one form of communication that can make or break business relationships.

Be courteous

Regardless of the content or context of the e-mail message, ‘thank you’ and ‘please’, or other variations such as ‘kindly’ are a must. Not using these words in e-mail makes it come across as demanding and/or disrespectful.

In the same vein, some people do not mind being addressed by their first names, while others are particularly sensitive to titles. If in doubt, use the correct title: Mr, Mrs, or any other as applicable. Finding out the correct title is usually as easy as making a phone call to the relevant organisation and making an inquiry. A little effort goes a long way in saving the embarrassment that could come with addressing a woman as Mr or the other way round.

Mind the Grammar

Spelling errors and poor grammar reflect carelessness on the part of the sender. In the absence of a face-to-face meeting, the recipient of e-mail, say, a prospective employer would form an opinion from your written word. Re-check the wording and grammar content and ensure your e-mail won’t be relegated to the bottom of the pile. Also, avoid relying too much on the spell-checker, there are certain words that it cannot differentiate, e.g. too and to, onion and union, the list goes on. Going the extra mile could make the difference in a prospective employer reading your e-mail and contacting you or not even giving your application a glance.

Little nuances

I’m sure every one of us has had the misfortune of getting so upset at work that we considered sending out e-mail lashing out at the concerned party/parties. Before you hit that send button, take a few deep breaths, take a walk, leave the office; whatever it is that will help you calm down. And just to be on the safe side and to avoid sending the e-mail prematurely, remove all the recipients, whether they are in the ‘to’, ‘Cc’ or ‘Bcc’ field. When you are less agitated, re-read the mail to determine if it expresses your opinions or reservations in a non-threatening, composed and approachable way.

Avoid using all upper case letters; this is the equivalent of yelling, while using all lower case letters gives the impression of mumbling. As far as the use of emoticons or smiley faces is concerned, your relationship with the recipient of the mail determines this. Strictly official correspondence should of course, exclude these but if there is a level of familiarity and rapport, then it would be okay.

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