E-mail Writing - "They'll Know What I Mean" Just Doesn't Cut It

Have you ever wondered how people coped in the world of business before e-mail? If you're under 30, you've probably never worked in an office or with a company that didn't have it. So how did people manage without it? Easy: they communicated.

Most businesses will admit that, while e-mail has some wonderful advantages, it isn't exactly without its pitfalls. We have a whole generation of workers coming through the ranks now who don't have the communication skills that many before us had. The art of conversation is undoubtedly dying and the business world will suffer as a result.

Senior managers are realising that much of the miscommunication and misunderstanding in business today can be attributed to an impersonal communication style made so easy by e-mail. E-mail is a breeding ground for misunderstanding and ambiguity, with most people sadly ill-equipped to deal with the medium as a form of communication.

So where is it falling down? To understand, we have to look at some of what human communication is about. Any formally trained manager will be able to tell you about active listening, body language, neuro linguistic programming and all the well-studied aspects of human interaction but the most astounding argument against e-mail has to be in the art of verbal conversation. Of the three aspects of verbal communication; words, voice intonation and body language (sometimes also known as words, music and dance) only 7% of the message we give is derived by the other person from the words we use. A further 38% is derived from the voice and intonation, while a staggering 55% of the meaning of our face-to-face verbal communications is derived unconsciously from the body language. It's therefore not difficult to see why e-mail could be seen by many as a deficient and potentially dangerous modern menace.

It's not all bad though. E-mail is still one of the most valuable tools available to modern business: the time savings alone make it worthwhile in many instances. There is, however, a need to fully understand the effect of using e-mail and what is lost from the 'conversation' as a result of restricting our message to only 7% of the available method. By appreciating the deficiencies of e-mail, we can start to compensate. As I mentioned earlier, ambiguity is a killer in business. If you use e-mail daily, you must learn to use unambiguous language, to be clear in your meaning and to make sure that the recipient of your e-mail is left in no doubt as to your meaning. Unfortunately for many people, though, this results in long-winded messages, somewhat defeating the instantaneous appeal of e-mail in the first place. But being clear in your message doesn't mean you can't be concise and efficient with your words. Indeed it's all the more reason to practice your writing skills.

Whenever possible, ensure that you draft important e-mails in advance of sending them. Take some time to read what you've written and analyse what meaning could be taken from it. If you can see more than one potential meaning, you can bet your recipient will too: so reword it.

Being aware of the limitations is half the battle in making sure that your e-mails are clear and result in what you intended, not what someone else thought you might have intended. In the world of business "They'll know what I mean..." just doesn't cut it.

With good advice freely available on the internet these days at sites like http://www.freewritingadvice.com - there really is no excuse.

About the Author:

Paul Docherty has over 13 years experience of technical and business related writing, as well project managing complex technical writing projects. More of Paul's writing can be seen at http://www.freewritingadvice.com

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