It’s not cool to be “bad,” despite what Michael Jackson sang. Being bad usually has, well, bad consequences and creates problems that are sometimes difficult to fix.
Although a problem may be hard to fix, tracing a problem back to its source is not always that difficult. Detectives and forensic experts do it all the time. They’ve been trained to look past the surface of the problem to its original cause.
Analyzing the way you communicate
Even if you’re not a detective or professional investigator, you can apply this same methodology in a practical way. Have you ever thought about tracing a workplace problem back to its original source?
For example, one way to investigate the possible causes of coworker hostility is by examining your email communication skills. Did you recently shoot an email to that coworker that could have been misunderstood?
Creating four big problems
Fortunately, the odds are low that you will ever write an email that causes a criminal offense or gets you arrested. But poor email communication skills are actually kind of “criminal” in their own way, especially when they create the following four problems:
- Confusion and doubt
- Bad feelings between people and departments
- Damage to company morale
- Project-completion delays
Let’s look at each problem a little closer and brainstorm some solutions.
Problem #1 – Your message created confusion and doubt.
If you included too many details, big paragraphs, and run-on sentences, chances are you confused your recipient and made them doubt your true meaning. And that’s bad. The point of sending a message is to compose information that eliminates confusion and doubt, not cause it.
Solution: Keep your emails short and to the point. Put the most important information at the top so your recipient sees it right away. If you really have a lot of information to share, skip email altogether and pick up the phone.
Problem #2 – Your message caused bad feelings between people and departments.
One of major disadvantages of email is the lack of non-verbal cues. Your recipient can’t hear your tone of voice or see your facial expression. This makes it harder to interpret the true meaning. Your recipient(s) might get upset by something that you never meant to cause offense.
Solution: Unless you know your recipient really, really well, it’s best to refrain from making sarcastic comments that could be misconstrued. When in doubt, keep it professional. Save the humor for a phone conversation or face-to-face meeting where you recipient can hear and/or see you.
Problem #3 – Your message damaged company morale.
This problem is similar to the previous one, but might be harder to fix because it’s affected the entire company, not just one person or department.
Maybe you accidentally hit the “reply all” button or unwisely “BCC’d” some people to include them in the conversation. Just keep in mind that when you send a thoughtless message or comment to a big group of people instead of just one person, you’ll have a bigger mess to clean up later.
Solution: Never, ever hit “reply all” or copy extra people on a message unless you are absolutely sure they need to be included in the conversation. And only include them in professional topics/issues. Never argue with other people through email. Never try to prove you’re right and someone else is wrong. If it’s that important for you to get everyone involved, then it’s important enough to have a face-to-face group meeting or conference call.
Problem #4 – Your message delayed the completion of a project.
This one is extra terrible because if project-completion delays were caused by your email, then the company probably lost money, too. Email is supposed to make communication faster and more efficient. If you write poorly or ignore basic email etiquette, you’re only going to hinder your coworkers and managers from getting projects done in a timely manner.
Solution: Make sure your message is easy to understand, and proofread it before you send it. Ask yourself if you had no knowledge at all of a particular project, would your message help your recipient understand what to do or just confuse them.
Fix typos, reword confusing phrases, and be as specific as possible. Do you need your coworker to get a report to you by a certain date? Then say that and ask them to respond. Do you need to share some instructions about what needs to be included in tomorrow’s meeting agenda? Use lists with numbers or bullets to outline important information so that it is clear.
Getting swamped with email
It’s also important to remember that although the email you sent is very important to you, your recipient is receiving about 100 additional emails every day. They have to choose which messages to focus on and which ones to push aside until later. Your message is not the only game in town.
If you want your email to cut through the clutter and actually solve problems instead of creating them, you must improve your email communication skills. Do some detective work and get to the root of the problem.
Looking for a few more tips on avoiding communication problems at work? Take a look at our new eBook!
Today's blog post by Rebecca Whittenberger