Email is the bread and butter of Ninja communication (with texting, Slack channels, instant messaging being the four-course dinner). Whether you’re writing to the team, a vendor, client, customer, or boss, your electronic communications need to be pitch perfect at all times.
However, written communication can be difficult to master. It’s open to a lot of interpretation unless you’re really careful. So improving electronic communication at work is something every Ninja should consider—especially since we’ll bet you handle a lot of emails.
We’ve put together a simple list of five tips to strengthen your e-comms game. But first, a breakdown of the technicalities.
Electronic Communication Forms: Email, Texting, IM
There are four major types of e-communications: email, texting, instant messaging, and telegram… Just kidding on that last part. But the Big Three matter, and each has a specific purpose, use, and code. We’re excluding social media because that’s a whole different ballgame.
Email should be used for longer communication threads that are not immediate or urgent. Think of it as the perfect forum for announcements, questions, onboarding, introductions, and decisions. It’s a back-and-forth conversation that plays out over time—not seconds.
Texting takes a more personal turn. If you’re texting people professionally, it’s usually to ask quick questions outside the office. Just double check that your team’s culture is one that encourages sharing personal phone numbers and communicating beyond office hours.
Instant messaging (IM) makes communicating in real time a breeze when you can’t have a face-to-face conversation (or if you prefer not to). Less formal and structured than email, it’s good for quick questions and reminders. Whether through Slack, Google Hangouts, another chat platform, many offices have an instant messaging go-to. The grammar police aren’t patrolling IM so you can get away with not capitalizing words and leaving out punctuation—but you still want to be careful with what you write.
When you need to communicate with someone, consider the best medium for your message. Think about the complexity of the communication and the urgency of the message.
For instance, if you need to chat with someone about planning an upcoming event, an email might work best to go over key points (and have them handy for future reference). If you need to tell the office to quiet down, a message through a Slack channel will do the trick. Good ol’ blow horns can help with that too.
Once you’ve sorted the various forms of electronic communications into these three categories, it’s easier to learn and remember the proper etiquette for each. However, the following five must-know rules stand true for any form of message you send, except maybe that telegram.
1. Keep It Simple
No matter the medium, reading something long, confusing, and off-topic is a total downer. It’s good practice to write clear, concise messages that are skimmable. This is especially true for email. Your recipient will read it in detail eventually—but will skim for an overview when it first hits the inbox.
Make electronic communications skimmable by:
- Using bullet points, bold text, or other keywords in your message.
- Outlining your key points in distinctive paragraphs, text messages, or lines.
- Keeping the purpose of the email in mind—to either inform, educate, or persuade.
In addition to keeping it readable and brief, stay on task. If your messages are long-winded, ask yourself what the major point of your message is. Then, use a mini-outline and write your major points as short, distinct paragraphs. Make it easy to find information by using subheadings.
2. Use Shorthand
Shorthand is a must-know for Ninjas. This strategy is best used to shorten communication, clarify your message, or save time while still keeping the integrity of the subject matter intact. Plus, it can be used in the body of any text—email or not.
Abbreviations like the ones below are perfect for universally known phrases, but make sure you spell out other words to avoid confusion. Here are a few shorthand acronyms to use when you’re looking to maximize productivity:
- BTW: By The Way
- PYR: Per Your Request
- FYI: For Your Information
- LMK: Let Me Know
- Y/N: Yes or No
- TL;DR: Too Long, Didn’t Read
These are handy, but we do suggest using your marbles before hitting send. Overusing “text speak” in place of the traditional English language can be detrimental to your professionalism. For example, in regards to a future meetup, there’s no need to type out “c u l8r.” Just write the real thing.
Additionally, if you find yourself writing an email that’s mostly empty, consider sending an IM. Shooting a quick working-from-home (WFH) or out of office (OOO) notification will save the recipient time and still be just as effective.
3. Invest in a Good App
Apps are lifesavers. If you’re sending a lot of the same, recycled emails frequently, apps can give you back some precious time. There are tons of uses for relevant applications and plug-ins—scheduling emails in advance, tracking email opens, employing email templates, automating email responses, creating surveys and polls. Aside from the actual content, tools can help with structuring your email schedule.
We’ve compared Mixmax and Yesware, two of the hottest email apps around, but there are other great ones to organize your email and improve electronic communications at work (which we’ve covered here).
4. Employ Templates
Templates minimize time spent on repetitive tasks. Instead of writing a new email to remind your co-workers of every office-wide fridge clean or to introduce the newest team member, use an easily tweakable, customized email template.
5. Reread, Recheck, or Regret
Research shows readers judge written errors harshly, particularly when they pop up in short messages like email and text. Your best bet is to reread your message carefully before sending.
A browser extension like Grammarly can help you check your spelling and grammar to maintain a professional tone. But to keep it old-school, here’s a little checklist worthy of review.
- Am I sending this to the correct people? (BCC included?)
- Is the subject line or text clear and concise?
- Are the abbreviations helpful or hurtful to my overall message?
- Is the body skimmable?
- Are there any spelling/grammatical errors?
- Am I missing a train of thought anywhere?
- Have I adapted the template correctly?
- Is the tone professional?
- Is it brief and on-task?
- Will I regret sending this later?
That last one’s a big one. Work can be stressful, and sending an important message when you’re stressed or irritated shows. So if the steam rushing out your ears could cause a severe case of email regret, wait 24 hours before sending. And even though Google thinks of everything, it’s still somewhat laborious to “unsend” communications.
When those moments of panic are unavoidable, just enable the “Undo Send” feature in Gmail. Go to Settings, “Undo Send”, and choose between 5, 10, 20, and 30-second windows of recovery time. In Outlook you can use the “Recall Email” feature by setting a rule to delay sending for a few minutes. Crisis averted.
By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll never have to doubt another message—or the medium to send it—again.
What about you, Ninja? Do you have any great electronic communications tips to add?