How to Communicate
In this age of social media and 24/7 connectedness, people are getting in touch with me via phone, texting, email, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. It’s terrific having all these ways to communicate but I think we need some guidelines!
I’m fine hearing from people through any of those media, and if you’ve texted me or sent me a DM on Twitter, you know I always do my best to respond. But here is my bottom line:
If it’s business, and you need more than a quick yes or no response, you should use email.
A Twitter DM or a text message is great for just a quick note, a yes or no answer, or maybe even to ask if it’s a good time to call. But if you have an important piece of business to discuss, email is the way to go because that is the only way I can keep a record of your question, make sure I answer it, and make sure I file it properly under your name in my email files.
Also, I’m away from my desk a lot, and when I’m not sitting in front of my computer, I rarely look at Twitter or any other social networking. I’ll get a text message on my phone (but if you need more than a quick response, I may not be able to answer) and I’ll get email. That’s all I can promise!
On top of that, I just think it’s completely untenable to expect someone to be keeping constant tabs on SIX different avenues of incoming communication! Agents are in constant communication with over 100 people at any given time, when you count our clients plus all the publishers we deal with. We need to be able to keep that organized, and email is the way to do it.
And speaking of email… I think it’s important to be able to use it efficiently and effectively. Here are some tips:
1. Make sure your display name is YOUR name. (This is the name that pops up in the recipient’s inbox.) You need to have your own email address that you don’t share with anyone. It doesn’t matter what the actual email address is, as long as the display name is your first and last name.
2. Put something appropriate in the subject line. Imagine your recipient needing to file the email and then easily access it later. The subject line should be something BRIEF that will help the person recognize the content of the email. Don’t be too generic, i.e. “Quick Note.”
3. Get to the point quickly. Again, in the interest of being kind to your recipient, keep your email as brief as possible, while avoiding being too curt. With many people in business handling dozens to hundreds of emails a day, this is becoming more and more crucial. But at the same time…
4. Make it personal. Include a real greeting and a nice closing. If you like, a brief bit of small talk is also appropriate and helps to keep your email from seeming terse or demanding. (“Hope you enjoyed your holiday” or “Appreciate your help!”)
5. Clearly state what you need from the recipient if you need a response. Don’t write a six-paragraph email with questions sprinkled throughout, and expect your reader to find and answer them. Make it easy for your recipient to understand what’s expected of them.
What do you think?
Is there anything people do in email that really annoys you? Do you have any of your own tips?
If you have a job in which you’re dealing with dozens or hundreds of people regularly, do you agree with me about needing EMAIL to be the primary method of business communication? Or are you fine with texting, Twitter, whatever?
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I’m an author, so I can’t imagine trying to keep over 100 people and their communiques straight, but your guidelines seem very sensible to me. I think it’s great that you put this out there for people, not only to set some boundaries, but to help people communicate more effectively! Thanks.
I’m with you on the use of email. I have other accounts, but I definitely don’t check them with the frequency I do my email accounts.
As always, it is a pleasure to read your advice and your shared experiences. I especially appreciate this post and all the suggestions given in the comments. My personal favorite is “BLUF”. For me, email is golden. With it I can communicate effectively with anyone. I worked in advertising for over a decade and received hundreds of emails a day. Ninety percent of the time, they were better than phone calls or other forms of communication. You do need those other forms, however, because it allows you to get to know the real person you are assisting. The more you know of them, the better the communication—the more poignant the email. In the end, though, it is the email which has the most advantages. You can use it for introduction, detail retention, organization, certification, explanation or just catching up.
My tip for email is you should treat it like a letter. If you practice good lettering writing skills, then your emails will always be concise and well-mannered; i.e, professional. By doing so, you are forcing yourself to take time and think about the receiver, the content and its purpose. During the first century, the Romans were voracious letter writers and readers. They wrote both personal and business letters all the time. It was serious stuff. The interesting thing about these letters was their structure. In the salutation, they included sender, receiver and greeting (To: Rachelle, From: August, Hope all is well with you!). I like this because it seems to say, “we put the important stuff first”—the connection. When the connection is important, what you say will have meaning for both parties. When the connection is important, you will be considerate and patient. When the connection is important, you will work hard to maintain it.
Very interesting and informative article indeed. I have to admit that I always follow all news about this.
E-mail is better I think than twitter or facebook if you want to make sure you are read and responded to. It is too easy to just miss things in the other media – at least with email it is still an electronic form of what was once a very official type of communication: pen, paper, envelope and stamp. These things, I’m sure, will be in museums someday!
Great ideas about communicating!
The only thing that is an irritant about emailing is receiving spam from people who are supposed to be friends.
Although your recommendations should be common sense and part of accepted etiquette, they are not. I encounter people breaking them all day long.
My biggest gripe is when the subject line is blank.
Of course, I also receive phone calls where people merely say, “Hi” without identifying who they are.
I couldn’t agree more! When it’s business, stick to email so that the messages can refresh our memories and remind us of things we need, or promised, to do. Even though I receive ministry requests through FB and Twitter, I always continue the conversation in good ole email fashion. Great post and great reminder!
Thanks for the incredible insights, Rachelle. I’m one of the ones who deals with over a hundred emails a day. The information is both timely, and valuable.
I find the bullet point method the best way to send email. It is short and to the point.
It annoys me when people ramble in an email, we all move at a fast pace and we don’t have time to read a dissertation.
I prefer email over phone calls, unless we have a phone appt. (I would drop everything for a call from Rachelle however)
Email is less invasive of a persons time. And as you said, Rachelle we then have a record of the request or message.
Oops the phone is ringing
I totally agree with you about email and the protocols associated with it. You might also add that email is NOT face to face. The words must carry the message as there are no smiles or glances to soften what you’re saying. That means being polite with words. Make sure your reader knows your intent.
Here are two examples:
Sign my cheque. OR You forgot to sign my cheque. Can you send me another one?
The first is abrupt and rude, the second, softer and more polite. No anger is shown in the second one. Ah, the power of words!
I agree that email is the most resourceful and sensible method of communication these days. Dozens of texts back and forth takes more time than writing an email, and more often than not you don’t get your point across if it’s more than a simple question / answer. Having the ability to sit down on my own timing and think things through is what I find most comfortable and effective.
I don’t have time for the videos (unless it’s cat videos) or other forwards.
Mary DeMuth wrote something one this, then Michael Hyatt — Do you guys have a book you go by for scheduling posts?
I prefer to hand write a note to someone. Email is business. Text is fast info., ” are you there yet?, send the quick list, On my way” that type of information.
But to really communicate to someone, there is nothing like a handwritten note. I have everyone that was written from the heart. Occaionally, on a rainy day, I will go back and reread them.
I didn’t see any mention in the comments (perhaps I read too fast?) of the Email Charter doing the rounds lately – totally aimed at cleaning up sloppy and inconsiderate email practices:
It was discussed in New York Times:
Everyone should read this and pass it on. Will save us all so much time and frustration!
Two things annoy me about email:
(1) People don’t respond at all.
(2) I ask two or three questions in an email (clearly separated as paragraphs or bullet points) and the recipient answers only the first one.
I am encouraged to see that we are all in agreement that email is still the best method of business communication. Yeah, email! (And I’m also happy that the AP Stylebook finally decided we can drop the hyphen from the word email.)
I hope Facebook and Twitter will always be relegated to what they do best – social networking. And that LinkedIn will continue to be used for business networking. And email for communication. I know the communication lines will continue to blur, but I like some semblance of boundaries. Otherwise it just feels like chaos.
At work, I usually keep the C.Y.A. (Cover You A**) mantra in mind and email is the best way to do it. I have also learned that email isn’t always the best medium—a phone call or face-to-face is sometimes better for avoiding misunderstanding or keeping the politics at bay. As @Stephanie Scott said, I always follow up those conversations with an email summarizing what was discussed.
I hate it when people don’t read their emails before clicking send. Typos kill all credibility, especially with clients.
I hate it when people leave me long voicemails that I have to listen to twice in order to correctly write down all the information. Ick.
Great topic, Rachelle. Common sense just isn’t so common anymore. 🙂
I completely agree with your email philosophy, Rachelle. When I used to work as a CPA, we had an instant messaging system on our laptops, and a lot of the new hires would use that as the main place to ask questions. It made it almost impossible to keep track of things, especially if I clicked the little red X on accident. My rule of thumb is that if I need to reference something later, it should go in an email.
Yikes! I didn’t even realize my name didn’t pop up via my personal e-mail. Fixed!
I agree that e-mail is the most efficient form of business communication. I do an annual staff training that includes e-mail etiquette. I always stress that an e-mail is a written document, not a slip of paper left on the kitchen counter. I think people sometimes think of e-mail as disappearing into cyberspace never to be seen again. Don’t pop off and don’t write anything you don’t want someone to read a year from now.
@Kathi Lipp: I agree, I need that paper trail! I still call people for business, but I usually still follow up with an email to confirm (est. paper trail) and even when I leave vm I am sometimes also leaving an email. For my job, it’s important that I double communication efforts since it’s my responsiblity to keep up on things. I think business email practices can easily translate to personal. As long as I’m not hounding people!
YES! When people want to do business by Facebook, it is so frustrating because I have no way of keeping a paper trail that is reliable.
If you are conducting business, negotiating a contract, planning an event, finalizing details about a project, or anything else where you may have to go back and refer to your notes, do EVERYTHING by email. I know it’s tempting to send a quick yes or no by text,but a paper trail is crucial so there is no misunderstanding…
E-mail is very casual, and it’s always weird to me when a professional relationship turns informal. That is, somebody I’ve previously addressed as Mr.–, Mrs.–, Prof.– suddenly signs an e-mail with a nickname/first name. I try to be polite and address people appropriately, and if I’m too unsure, I’ll leave off the greeting altogether. I know that sounds paranoid, but I hate stepping over relationship boundaries. Does anybody else have this problem?
Jill, I think that once your recipient goes from formal to casual, you should too. So if Mr. Soandso starts calling himself Billy, start addressing him as such. 🙂
Well, I get tired of forwarded e-mails that really are of no interest to me. I also don’t care for e-mails that merely say, “You’ve got to read this” with a link, or “You’ve got to watch this video” with a link. I don’t click links like that.
For business related e-mail, I don’t like it when people have embedded logos or signatures. These often show up as attachments at the end of the e-mail. I don’t know if those attachments are information I need, so I click on them and find it’s nothing more than a stupid logo or sig. Frustrating waste of time.
Thanks for the info!
I don’t like it when people make a new message rather than “reply” for business related email. Just for the reasons you point out- having a record, accurate filing, etc- having the whole “string” in one message is helpful. I couldn’t imagine this happening with you but in my business, I don’t like when people cc others inappropriately. And virtually every point you made, I agree with.
Email is definitely my professional communication method of choice.
I hate conducting business over Twitter, and especially hate being pitched there. Sometimes I’ll send my clients little updates or teasers, but nothing of major substance. And if you try to use Facebook for anything with me, well…we’re done.
I like having more space to flesh out thoughts, and also a little more leeway in responding, which is what email lets me do. I’ll give myself a week if I need to on emails (sometimes I’m totally delinquent, but…hey).
So if someone is trying to get my attention, a well-crafted email is a good way about it. Some patience is helpful though. Depending on urgency and our relationship, my response time can vary pretty widely.
I totally agree that email is the best if there is anything about it that I’d want to refer back to later.
When I was in college I was in charge of a student organization of over 160 people, 23 of which were officers. The officers would text me, or want to throw something at me in between classes.
My response was always, “Shoot me an email.” Because when you get ten people all wanting some sort of response, and you can’t get to them until the end of the day… well, its just impossible to remember it all.
My pet peeve is two-fold: the no reply and the one-word, usually unnecessary reply.
When I send something, whether it be a document to be reviewed or invitation to an event, I always appreciate a response. Maybe it’s assumed by the recipient that digital messages aren’t “lost,” but with spam folders and the like, I’m often left wondering if my e-mail was ever received. Just a quick, “Thank you, I’ll get this back to you,” or “Sorry, we can’t make it,” is appreciated.
On the opposite end, the unnecessary, one word “Thanks!” or “OK” replies never fail to grate on my nerves. It’s one more e-mail to open and delete. Even if “thank you” is all the sender wanted to say, a slightly longer response would make me feel as if opening that e-mail had been worth my time.
A thought on the one-word e-mail (e.g., “thanks!”). I understand what you mean, but sometimes that “thanks”–if assumed to be sincere–can be a nice token of appreciation when you might not be feeling very appreciated.
I once subscribed to a newsgroup where people would post one- (or two-) word replies by putting the reply in the subject line followed by “(nt)” or something like that to indicate that there was “no text” in the body of the e-mail. That way, the list recipients would know not to bother opening the e-mail. It’s kind of an e-mail equivalent to a postcard. 🙂 For example:
Subject: Re: Manuscript Attachment. Thanks! (nt)
This may well be widely practiced and I’m just ignorant, but this might be a good way to satisfy the need to reply briefly without annoying the recipient.
Colin – That’s an excellent idea that I’ve never seen. I don’t mind the sentiment of the one word e-mail, of course, but rather the time suck of opening and deleting it. I think I’ve just worked with a few too many people who feel they MUST get the last e-mail or word in. Even if I were to reply to a “thanks” with a “you’re welcome,” I’m sure these same people would feel the need to send a “don’t mention it.”
I totally agree with you! An email just saying “Thanks” or “OK” is one more thing to delete!
#3 and #6 duly noted! I tend to be longwinded… ESPECIALLY when I’m nervous and tend to ramble!
Great tips in the post and the comments!
I would also ask people to please consider grouping ideas into ONE succinct email. Please do not send five different emails over the course of a day, as various thoughts pop into your mind. This is especially hard for creative folks – well, for writers. I don’t usually have this problem working with graphic artists, now that I think of it. Or with editors… yeah. I have it with writers.
Wait, let everything settle, keep notes, then compose and send the shortest, politest email you possibly can. With numbered questions, if possible, and nice areas of white space.
🙂 I know. Impossible dream. I fall short here, too.
I’m in HR so I get a load of emails on a daily basis. For me the length is definitely true! A long email to get to the point is difficult to muddle through. That and obtuse emails like: “Hey, I tried calling you. Call me when you get a chance”. That doesn’t help me prioritize.
All in all – short and sweet, a smiley face, and a sense of patience by the sender is ALWAYS appreciated.
I love to hear from my readers, but my pet peeve is the reader who demands to come and visit me at my house. I’ve agreed 3 times over the years and each time they stayed for hours and hours. One guy followed me to an appointment after I finally managed to get him out of the house. I now say – “sorry no visits to my house.”
Oh, my! I have to admit to a least one of those faux pas. I had just jumped back in the saddle again and I was still learning. There. I feel cleansed.
And yes, I agree that e-mail should be the primary communication tool if it’s business. And if the subject line is…”So, Tell Me How You Got Your Agent And Do You Know How much $ You’ll Make”, I will most likely not respond. Being new to the game is never an excuse for intentional unprofessionalism.
Thanks, Rachelle, for reminding us how important it is to communicate effectively.
I have two pet peeves. I have a family member who does both of these things. One is the Reply All when the email reply to a question or comment doesn’t pertain to me.
The other is paragraphing. I’ll get an email from this person that’s long enough to be a book and it’s one paragraph. I end up not even reading it.
This is an EXCELLENT post.
Although I am FREQUENTLY on Twitter, any business conducted there is done in the form of me giving tips to the general public. Any time a client and I accidentally get into a business discussion, say on DM, we almost immediately switch to e-mail, where we can have a longer, more appropriate discussion and, as Rachelle said, keep a RECORD.
Although I am guilty of the long, rambly email myself, I definitely appreciate when business emails get to the point in a clear manner. Things get lost if they come in a haphazard manner.
It’s ok to write things down to yourself over a day or two (and I should be better about this too, and write one, long email rather than email every thought you have as you have it.
I love answering questions in email directly in the body of the email in another color. I can make sure every point has been addressed.
Overall, these are fabulous tips for maximizing your email/communications effectiveness.
Including the subject line. Sometimes I’ll change the subject line mid-stream even if we’ve just been hitting reply if we’ve veered onto a different topic. For reference later.
Clients of mine reading this may think–who is this?? I can clearly be better about this. And so can everyone, I’m sure. Thanks for an excellent reminder, Rachelle.
I’ve seen EOM (End of Message) used in the subject line – for example, “Got your message, will call at 2. EOM.” That lets the recipient know there’s no further information in the email. Click delete and you’re done.
It works great for those quick ping-pong conversations but I worry that it’s not common enough to be acceptable. Thoughts?
Always think about timing. If it’s a Friday, and you’ve emailed a question to an agent or editor, don’t panic. We may actually be taking a day off on Saturday and/or Sunday.
Other advice: NO attachments whatsoever. If an agent wants to see your mss, sample chapters and/or book proposal, we’ll def. ask for it. This also means the query should be writen within the email (vs. being sent as an attachment)
For the agency, if it’s in regard to my clients and their books, email is absolutely essential. Is it just a simple question, such as “Can I deliver a gallon of coffee to you?” – then Twitter DM is just fine. 🙂
Email is the way to go. Our clients know that we answer as soon as possible by email. If it’s urgent, we call or receive a call.
The five points are perfect.
In recent years, I’ve used BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) for my emails and have gotten much better response. As a writer I often want to write a story: starting with the foundation and building brick by brick to my majestic and wonderful conclusion. But half the time people don’t get there. I still write my story, but I take the bottom line (or paragraph) to the top and delete the rest.
I especially agree with number six, and apparently so does my agent. When I emailed her questions about my contract, I numbered them all instead of seasoning five paragraphs with them. Her responding email started with, “Hello, Author of My Dreams!”
Good tips, its everything that i do and more,lol. I’m kidding even though I’m not that bright I’m not that bad. Richard from Amish Stories.
In email, I say in the first sentence what I need. In turn, when I’m reading emails, I do not like (or have time) to read two paragraphs to figure out what the person wants.
I like directness out the gate. Then chat if necessary.
I agree! Coming from Corporate America (banking) and owning two businesses, email is STILL the way to go. For me, like you said, it is still just the easiest way to keep a running log of communication. Twitter, FB, text is more for the quick or more personal communication.
Thanks for your post! It was great! AND, thanks for your break-out at SheSpeaks! I learned a TON and took lots of notes. Bless you!
http://www.amyjmccart.com – Proverbs 31 Devotional Blog
Yes! I so agree with you on this point. Most of my clients are great about this. But two things started happening last year…
1. Many people like to take care of “business” while they’re in the car, so they call me and ask a very long, technical question about their taxes. Then I’m having to make notes about their question and place it somewhere where I’ll remember to respond when I can. The second reason this is bad is because it’s always good to have written documentation of both the question and the answer.
2. I have clients who are also personal friends. Facebook is not a good place to ask professional or financial questions. Not even through Facebook messaging.
Oh, and one more thing: PROOFREAD before you hit “Send.”
Makes perfect sense to me.
I get irked when people come across ultra demanding in emails. Gratitude goes a long way, even if it’s a simple thank you.
This is wise, Rachelle, to establish this understanding. Wise. Wise.
Hope you are recouping from your trip.
At work, I send a lot of emails where I need to explain something, and then ask for an action, usually a response.
I’ve taken to putting the action item in a different color to make it stand out. Nothing obnoxious; usually blue.
The advice I always give young folks at the office is that an e-mail is a letter, and should be written like one. There should be a salutation, an introduction, some explanation of what needs to be communicated, a closing and a sincerely.
But if someone is past 10 years in the working world, say in their 30s, and has to be told this kind of thing they will not get hired by me.
My emails are usually brief. I’m not much on typing out letters. I hate when people forward me videos or jokes. I don’t like having to search through a bunch of garbage to find my serious messages.
Grouping questions so the eye can scan them quickly is a great idea. Having to trawl through the text of an email to identify what points need a specific response is a real time-waster.
I try to be brief and friendly, but will definitely work on the subject line. I tend to go the generic “quick question” route–and usually end up with several questions, which makes the subject line obsolete! 🙂
Definitely prefer email for anything business-like, and it means messages can be filed in folders. Can’t stand those forwarded emails with long strings of addresses and names. Have to agree with Patricia on this one!
It’s great that you’re so open to all forms of communication, Rachelle – hope it doesn’t get too abused!
It’s possible you could hear from me via email if I had anything to say, but not by any of the other methods. I might use Facebook on rare occasions with family and certain friends, but I don’t use any other medium to communicate so far– well other than phone of course, and I don’t even use that much anymore. Gosh, I sound like a hermit.
Tossing It Out
Excellent topic. I’m a housewife and still have gripes about tactful ways to receive email.
I don’t want to go into detail but a fun one crosses my mind here: Why can’t people removed the FW: FW: FW: and just keep the title. While they are at it, it might be nice if they remove the long list of people’s names on the chain email. Just get to the point. Show me the joke already.
I’m certain there are much greater things to gripe about though.
Not to mention they should delete the forty messages nested in the e-mail that say things like ‘lol’ and ‘hysterical’ and ‘this is great’.
I DON’T LIKE IT WHEN PEOPLE USE ALL CAPS!!! It makes it seem like they’re yelling at me 🙁
Finally! Was beginning to think I was from another planet.
In most cases e-mail has to be the way to go. When I interned at the magazine, there was a point where I was gathering information on several different projects, all via e-mail. The company’s e-mail was hosted through Google which gave me the option of tagging e-mails in color-coded tags. Fabulous when I needed to quickly check to see if I’d gotten the information I needed from one source or another.
I would use twitter to verify information sometimes but not often because professionally done websites were more reliable for that sort of thing (coming in behind actually phoning the person I needed).
E-mail is still the best, in my opinion. You can sort your e-mail however you want, and some (most?) programs let you apply filters to auto-sort your incoming messages.
Number 2 was the most helpful advice for me. I am always putting “Quick question” or something similar in the subject line.
The number one mistake I see is when someone will put out a mass email and then hope for individual responses. Mass emails are for imparting information only. If you need an individual response, send a personal email.
Good points! In a way it’s sad that you even have to point out such obvious things. I get particularly annoyed when I receive emails without any kind of greeting, and I find it especially rude if it comes from a student, or somebody else who wants something from me.
I appreciate this post very much. This evening I read with interest Darren Rowse on G+, expressing frustration with rude (and worse) conversations on Twitter and Google+. While I prefer email for important business communication, I also utilize Twitter (networking) and texting (personal) a great deal.
There seems to be an entire generation of writers who have forgotten basic communication rules and etiquette. So many emails I receive are written with the atrocious misspellings and abbreviations common in texting, and generally do not include a greeting at all.
Your five points are perfect – I wish my clients would read this!
RJ, the Hope Coach
I think this is good advice. Personally, I think it’s great that you allow people to email you. I appreciate all agents that are getting out there on the web, being accessible to people like me who may have questions and would love your insight. Thanks for all you do!