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Handling E-mail: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

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By John Stancavage

RISMEDIA, March 6, 2008-(MCT)-As a member of the media, I get flooded with e-mails. At my personal home address, I might get five a day. At work, though, 100 to 200 is not unusual. To have time to do the rest of my job, I’ve become pretty adept at quickly weeding out the important messages from the junk. But I’m still amazed sometimes at how people send items.

Some of my pet peeves include:
–Blank subject line. It’s not uncommon for me to get several e-mails a week with nothing identifying the message.
–Long, meandering text. Some groups will send me a meeting announcement and tack on internal news to members, personal messages to specific people on the group “blast” list and other unfocused clutter.
Other times, a person will send me 15 or 20 paragraphs on a topic that really would be better handled in an old-fashioned phone call.
–Unnecessary use of “reply to all.” If an e-mail goes out to an entire group of people to, say, encourage they congratulate someone for a worthy achievement, it just fills up my inbox to have 20 people reply to all saying “Kudos!” to that one person.

It’s not just media employees who are dealing with an onslaught of electronic communication, it’s the business world in general. And, it seems that many of us actually have helped create this situation.

A recent study by California-based staffing firm OfficeTeam found that 65% of executives prefer e-mail over other forms of communication. That’s up from 34% a decade ago.

But while voice mail, paper memos and face-to-face discussions may be declining, the quick and convenient option of e-mail does come with a price.

“Many professionals receive an overwhelming amount of e-mail, which makes it easier for messages to get lost in the shuffle,” noted Diane Domeyer, executive director of OfficeTeam, in a press release.

OfficeTeam shares my dislike of “reply to all” and absent or vague subject lines. In addition, Domeyer suggests e-mail users keep messages brief, only mark a note “urgent” when it is truly critical, and include high up the action being sought and the deadline.

If you find any of these things difficult to do, then you might want to transmit your message “old school.” In other words, pick up the phone. Get out a pen and paper. Walk down the hall.

One other thing: If you receive an e-mail that raises your blood pressure, don’t reply immediately.
I think it’s too easy to go all Bob Knight on someone electronically, when you likely would not do the same in person.

Instead, take a deep breath. Get up and get a drink of water. Better yet, wait 24 hours before you reply.

Although you’ll lose the temporary satisfaction of “getting even,” your response will be much more civil, coherent and professional. And, I would bet, much more effective. So, if you didn’t like this column, wait a day before you e-mail me.

Copyright © 2008, Tulsa World, Okla.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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