Overarching consideration: Use the right mode of communication - often e-mail is
not the right way to communicate a particular message.
1. Do not treat an e-mail like a conversation. In normal conversation we use
the feedback of body language to modify our message, pace, tone, and emphasis
in order to stay out of trouble. In e-mail we do not have this real-time feedback.
2. Keep messages short. A good e-mail should take only 15-30 seconds to read
and absorb. Less is more in online communication. Try to have the entire message
fit onto the first screen. When a messages goes "over the horizon," the reader does
not know how long it is, which creates a psychological block.
3. Establish the right tone upfront. E-mail messages have a momentum. If you
start on the wrong foot, you will have a difficult time connecting. The "Subject"
line and the first three words of a note establish the tone.
4. Remember the permanent nature of e-mails. Using e-mail to praise helps
people remember the kind words. Using e-mail to be critical is usually a bad idea
because people will re-read the note many times.
5. Keep your objective in mind. Establish a clear objective of how you want the
reader to react to your note. For sensitive notes, write the objective down. When
proofreading your note, check to see if your intended reaction is likely to happen.
If not, reword the note.
6. Do not write notes when you are not yourself. This sounds simple, but it
is really much more difficult than meets the eye. Learn the techniques to avoid
7. Avoid "e-mail grenade" battles. Do not take the bait. Simply do not respond
to edgy e-mails in kind. Change the venue to be more effective.
8. Be careful with use of pronouns in e-mail. Pronouns establish the tone.
The most dangerous pronoun in an e-mail is "you."
9. Avoid using "absolutes." Avoid words such as: never, always, impossible, or
cannot. Soften the absolutes if you want to be more credible in e-mails.
10. Avoid sarcasm. Humor at the expense of another person in an e-mail will come
back to haunt you.
11. Learn techniques to keep your inbox clean (down to zero notes each day)
so you are highly responsive when needed. Adopting proper distribution rules in
your organization will cut e-mail traffic by more than 30% instantly.
12. Understand the rules for writing challenging notes so you always get the
result you want rather than create a need for damage control.
Your organization has a sustainable competitive advantage if:
• You live and work in an environment unhampered by the problems of poor online
communication. This takes some education and a customized set of rules for your
unique environment, but the effort is well worth it.
• Employees are not consumed with trying to sort out important information from
piles of garbage email.
• Your coworkers are not focused on one-upmanship and internal turf wars.
• Leaders know how to use electronic communications to build rather than destroy
For leaders and managers, once you learn the essentials of e-body language, a
whole new world of communication emerges. You will be more adept at decoding
incoming messages and have a better sense of how your messages are interpreted by
others. You will understand the secret code that is written "between the lines" of all
messages and enhance the quality of online communications in your sphere of influence.