Saturday, December 7, 2013

Seven Tips for University Email Communication

Oh email, how I love and hate you.
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There are days I get over 100 emails a day.  However, most days run between 40 and 50 a day.  I could sit like Ernestine the operator and deal with email communications all day long.  But, like most these days, I triage emails and deal with the most significant ones during the day and leave the rest for a once every week or two massive email answer and purge.  I just finished my biweekly email purge.  After finishing, I can see why many companies have banned email.  It's a huge time sink.

So, I thought I would provide seven pieces of advice on email communication within a university setting to make everyone's world a little easier.

1.  If it is really important, call or stop by, don't email.  I think everyone is overwhelmed with email and a phone call might be more efficient than a series of emails that lack clarity and that take time.  I deleted several very long email streams today that might have been avoided if I would have picked up the phone or walked to someone's office for a few minutes.

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2.  Don't expect replies from informational emails.  I think everyone sends out information emails such as, "I'll be late to the meeting" or "Here's that document you requested".  This week, I had several emails from people asking me if I got their informational email.  I did, but I didn't see a need to respond.  The follow up email just clogs up email files.  If you want to know if someone got something, just ask them in the original email to acknowledge that they got it.  But it better be important.  No one wants to take the time to acknowledge an email from someone who is stating that they are going to be late to something.

3.  Be clear.  We all receive and send emails that lack clarity.  I have sent some real whacky rambling ones that probably made folks question my sanity.  The best emails are short and to the point.  If there is a question that needs answering, make it very clear what you are asking and when you need it answered.  If your email is long, bold or underline key points or questions.

4.  Don't expect email to substitute for personal interactions.  I get emails at least once a day from organizations asking me to attend conferences, send students as interns, or somehow otherwise get involved with them.  In most cases, I don't know the individual or the organization.  In other cases, I can't tell if it's a legitimate organization or spam.  If you want to get to know a person or an organization, make an appointment and meet them.  Suggest a skype meeting if you are not local.  An email doesn't substitute for the networking or personal contact needed to build a trusting relationship.  Unfortunately, some organizations become angry or upset if I don't respond to them quickly when they initially reach out to me.

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5.  Don't email unless you have to.  Every professor has gotten this kind of email, "When is the exam?".  Of course, we all post exam dates on the syllabus, and the syllabus is online.  So, this is a clear statement that the student is not taking the time to login and figure it out.  It doesn't reflect well on the student.  But faculty do this as well.  I know I am guilty of this, but I've been trying hard to avoid excess emailing over the last several months.

6.  Don't think think that email reflects personality.  We've all gotten one word email responses and thought, "How rude!" at one time or another.  But, the reality is that the person was probably very busy when s/he sent it and we shouldn't read anything into it or other brief or terse emails like it.  I like to think of email communication as just a fact based way of sharing information.  I always try not to read anything into it beyond the facts presented.

7.  Don't expect immediacy.  Most university faculty are very busy people.  We all have department, student, research, service, community, and faculty obligations.  If it is really important see 1 above.  Most faculty will return emails within 24 hours.  However, it might take more time for some.  I know it does for me during busy times of the year.


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