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Tips to navigate the e-mail jungle

If you search “e-mail etiquette” on the internet you will find some excellent advice about appropriate and inappropriate use of e-mail.

Some of this advice comes from large organizations like Outlook or the University of Toronto and some tips are provided by professional consultants.

In my latter years as organizational leader I averaged over a hundred e-mails a day and tried very hard to respond to them within twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

I believed that late responses were disrespectful especially to the people we served.

The issue needed to be resolved or at least acknowledged while teams looked for solutions. Sometimes, however, organizations receive repeated or harassing e-mails and these e-mails are often handled by IT investigators. These are not the people to whom leaders would normally respond.

E-mail etiquette is just as applicable in personal e-mails as it is in business. Using capital letters to emphasize points (‘shouting’) or using sarcasm are considered bad taste.

In addition, I used to advise my teams that sensitive information should not be written in e-mails – these are better discussed in person or by phone.

I have always maintained that e-mails are like postcards and contents can be read by unintended people.

In the hundred or more e-mails that many organizational leaders handle each day a great many of them come with attachments that the senders think ought to be read.

While some attachments may be important it is unreasonable to keep attaching files to e-mails and to expect the reader to absorb them all. Some organizational senders do this to cover themselves so they can feel secure that they shared the information.

Many of us are very careful not to forward e-mails without permission. Another consideration must be to not forward chain letters or e-mails that have been sent to a multitude of people.

This way peoples’ e-mail addresses are being forwarded without permission.

If one needs to forward this kind of e-mail it would be advisable to delete all the original recipients’ e-mail addresses first and then forward only to the intended person.

E-mails that contain political, religious, libellous, offensive or defamatory information are annoying. But sometimes even people we know forward such unwanted e-mails with the best of intentions.

One such e-mail I received was titled “Bhagawad Gita.” It contained an attachment with religious pictures termed “The Bhagawad Gita simplified” with wise sayings about spirituality.

The sender is not Hindu but thought that he was being open-minded and he sent it to a large number of people. One of the people on his mailing list is an acclaimed equity activist, the granddaughter of a world renowned Indian civil rights leader, and she was upset, calling the attachment blasphemous. Her premise was that simplifying a Holy Scripture and sending it out in this manner trivializes it. The kind of discussion that ensued, copied to everyone on the mailing list, would have perhaps been better done in a small gathering similar to a book club where healthy debates can be inspirational; but on e-mail they lead to uncertainties at best and often anger.

Posted: Sep 30, 2018

May 2020

Centennial College

Immigration Peel Canada

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