Saturday, February 18, 2012

Excellent advice from an article in IHE about the use of e-mail in the workplace.

I strongly endorse both the main advice and a contrary opinion in the comments. Contradiction? No, because the common thread is to know why you are using e-mail rather than a personal conversation.

The contrarian advice is the important value of e-mail as a written record that can be used for legal backup (even if only with your department head or dean). However, as the main article points out, that message will only be of assistance to you if you think before you send.

And the one thing to think before you hit "send" is that all e-mail is a public record in some states and potentially a public record in others. Always think about how it will be read by anyone in your organization, including board members and (for state schools) legislators.

A key thing to think about with students, but also with many others, is that they might only read the first sentence of your response. Before you hit "send", go back and read that sentence, all by itself, as a stand-alone message to see if it sends a mistaken impression of your main message. I've rewritten an e-mail for that reason alone. We have a tendency to put the main point at the end, like a conclusion, rather than at the beginning, as is proper in a memo. The CYA stuff is always at the end, of course.

It is definitely true the e-mail carries bigger risks than a personal conversation. That is because nuances conveyed by tone of voice are simply absent in an e-mail. A direct, "just the facts, Ma'am" approach common among scientists is particularly risky when used with non-scientist colleagues or students. It comes across as brusque or even rude. That is perfect if your goal is to be rude, but not if you goal is to develop consensus on a policy or decision.

Finally, e-mail can be slower than face-to-face discussions. Something as simple as re-ranking priorities can happen in a minute during informal discussion, but take days as e-mails bounce back and forth asynchronously between members of a committee.

Read Entire Article......