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Beware of Over Dependence on Email

Dan Bobinski
May 5, 2005 -- By Dan Bobinski 

Email is a wonderful thing. The “send” button is a magic link to instant communication worldwide. But beware of over-reliance on this wondrous medium.  Assuming that every server works flawlessly and spam filters sift out only true spam is dangerous thinking in the world of business communication.  If you’ve not heard back from a client or vendor, it may not be their fault.
Before Email and Fax, “snail mail” was our only option. The postal service grew trustworthy, but the occasional letter still got “lost in the mail.”  Then the creation of certified and registered mail helped, as they required signatures along the way. 
But now, as Email has supplanted snail mail for many business communications, a danger has been created. Confirmed receipts are not well-designed nor well-used, plus messages regularly get lost or delayed in cyberspace.
For example, Roger, a friend of mine, is buying a house. His mortgage broker sent him some time-sensitive material in an attachment, expecting Roger to respond later that day.  The broker neither called nor otherwise notified Roger that the Email had been sent.  As fate would have it, the Email was “delayed” in cyberspace, and it didn’t appear in Roger’s inbox for three days.
Where it got hung up nobody knows, but in the mean time, the broker was miffed at Roger’s “alleged” disrespect for the urgency of the matter.
Roger’s broker committed an all-too-common sin: Assuming an Email has reached its destination.
Another example is Bill, a roofing contractor who gets hundreds of spam Emails each day. Because he knows he gets a lot of spam, Bill doesn’t read each message.  If the “from” line indicates the message is from someone he doesn’t know or the subject line is generic, the message gets deleted.
So here’s the miscue: One of Bill’s vendors had his secretary send Bill an Email. Not only did the secretary choose a generic subject line, Bill did not recognize the sender (it showed only her name, not the company name, and Bill did not know who she was).  With a generic subject line and an unknown sender, he viewed it as spam and deleted it. 
A few days later, Bill called his vendor and wanted to know the status of an order. As you might assume, the vendor was befuddled that Bill had not responded to the previous Email, and tension resulted. 
These are just a few examples showing that good Email etiquette is still not as pervasive as it ought to be.  Companies need to set standards for electronic communications. Easier should not mean sloppier.
Emailreplies.com lists 32 tips for improving Email.  One that applies to Bill’s situation above is #24; Use a Meaningful Subject.  They write:
    Try to use a subject that is meaningful to the recipient as well as yourself. For instance, when you send an email to a company requesting information about a product, it is better to mention the actual name of the product, e.g. 'Product A information' than to just say 'product information' or the company's name in the subject.
Can you imagine a world in which people use Email as a useful tool, and not rely on it as their only means of communication?  Telephone companies are still in business, and if I were a betting man I’d put money on the idea that sometimes your client needs to hear your voice over the phone. 
Besides, with words being only 7% of communication (voice tone and body language comprise the rest), it’s a darn good idea to increase communication by including voice tone once in a while.
Bottom line, over-reliance on Email can cause problems. Be careful not to be quick to blame others if they don’t respond to your message right away.  Nobody is preventing you from picking up the phone to call a valued client or vendor to hear their voice tone—and let them hear yours.    

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© 2005 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development, Inc. You may freely forward this information on condition that you send the text as an integral whole along with complete information about its author, date, and source.
Dan Bobinski is a certified behavioral analyst, the President and CEO of Leadership Development, Inc., and the co-author of Living Toad Free: Overcoming Resistance to Motivation. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.
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