E-mail: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly

It is hard to deny e-mail's place in the corporate communication world, but is it helping or hurting truly effective communication? I think it all depends on how it is being utilized.

You can call it a pet peeve of mine, but the proliferation of "reply all" is bloating e-mail boxes across the globe. You know what I'm talking about. The moment someone sends an e-mail and includes a cc: to anyone else, those folks on the cc line are included in every little back and forth communication FOREVER! Now I get it, we have this need to keep everyone in the loop, we promote "transparency", "knowledge is power", "inclusion" and often "CYA". But really, is every little word important to everyone or is it much more of an interruption in what could have been a more productive day for the poor soul that was copied from the very beginning!

Now sometimes it is needed or even asked for. I have a couple of clients, whose president likes to know what is going on and has asked to be copied on all communications. I think that is different. This is more like opting in to an enewsletter as opposed to receiving an unsolicited enewsletter on the dangers of eating exotic flowers grown in the Amazon. So the next time you decide to add people to the cc line in an e-mail, ask yourself "Will this make their life better" or "Is this information that if they found out after the fact would they be very upset". 

Now on the opposite side of this spectrum is the no response. I'm sure it has happened to you and perhaps you have actually been the one not responding, but really this is all about being polite and respectful of other people.

I'm not talking about the spam that we all receive in bucket loads. I'm talking about the e-mail from a colleague that sent you information that you requested and then you didn't let them know with a two-word response that you received the information..."thank you". Now this may seem trite, but really it is all about manners and good etiquette that you were taught when you were eight years old. Using those words, please and thank you. OK, so you might be thinking first you say to stop including everyone in your department or company on e-mails and now you want me to push back another e-mail just to let them know that I got their e-mail. Right! It is just the courteous thing to do. Think about it...what if someone was standing right in front of you and told you about an important new initiative at the company. Would you just blankly stare at them or would you say "thanks for this information, I really appreciate learning about it". So why wouldn't you do that via e-mail?

Now I have one more e-mail protocol to toss out there. This relates to the whole please and thank you theme, but it relates to people outside of your company. Let's say that you had requested a proposal from an outside consulting firm. You explained that the due date for the proposal was the last day of the month. Now their proposal comes in on time...what do you do? Right!! Send a quick thank you for the proposal and if you are very polite you might even tell them the next steps in your process. Remember, you asked them to send you something. Granted, they are trying to earn your business, but if you are really interested in working with them in the future, do you want to give them the impression that you are not polite. This just recently happened to me.

An organization reached out to us based on a referral and asked us to submit a proposal for our services. The first thing we did (I know obviously) was to thank them for the opportunity. Then we asked if we could meet them at our expense to learn more about them before submitting a proposal. They gladly accepted our offer. We met, got to know each other better and decided that it would be consulting work that we could perform rather successfully. We then submitted our proposal via e-mail. Oh no, you can see where this is going. We did NOT get a thank you. We then e-mail a couple of days later asking if they had any questions about our proposal...nothing in response. Then a phone call that went into voicemail. Again, no response. Then two more e-mails and still no response. Now you might say "I don't think they are selecting you to help them with their project". I know you are right, but what has also happened is that we DON'T want to work with them either because of how impolite they were during this process. So you know what happened?

About forty-five days after the proposal was due, we got an e-mail. You got selected to move to the next stage in our decision process. You know what we did...we politely declined to proceed. Now you might think...idiot! They could very well select RTG to help them. I know, but life is short and we would rather work with people we think are polite and fun to work with rather than those that forgot what their moms taught them when they were eight years old.