Building a business
E-mails: Tips for sending and responding
E-mail messaging has become a standard way of doing business. Child care providers, like other businesses, use e-mail to communicate with employees, parents, and vendors.
You might e-mail a family about bringing a child’s immunizations up to date, or you might notify all parents about the cancellation of the magician show on Friday. E-mail has also become a convenient way to send documents, often as PDF files, such as invoices, handbooks, and newsletters.
For all their convenience and usefulness, however, e-mailing can pose problems. Consider educating yourself and your staff to avoid pitfalls and improve communication.
Tips for sending messages
Remember that any e-mail can become public. This is the first rule of e-mailing messages. No matter how private you think your e-mails are, your message can turn up on Facebook or other social media or even in a court of law. Take a lesson from mistakes of individuals highlighted by recent news stories. Imagine that your message will be posted on a public bulletin board. Think about how it will affect your own integrity and the reputation of your business.
Recognize that e-mail is one-dimensional. E-mail messages lack the voice inflections of phone conversations and the gestures of in-person communication. Consequently, words and phrases that you intend as humorous or ironic can be misinterpreted, resulting in the recipient’s confusion or anger. Sensitive subjects may require phone or personal communication.
Avoid e-mailing when you are angry or fatigued. E-mailing is so easy that we can be tempted to fire off a message in an outburst of anger or respond negatively when feeling down. For delicate messages, use the safety lock. Compose the message and save the draft. Think about it overnight or ask a trusted friend for input. Then reread, add the address, and send.
Review messages carefully before sending. Think about content: Do you spot any ambiguities that can cause confusion? Look at spelling and grammar. Consider having another person proof the message, not just for errors but also for clarity.
Limit each message to one subject. You’re asking a vendor about giving you a discount on bulk purchases. Avoid adding a note that your facility will close for renovation the second week of April. Instead, make the renovation note a separate message. Recipients will be more likely to read the two notes and will have an easier time finding the appropriate note in the future if needed.
Write the gist of the message in the subject line. Ideally the subject line will alert the reader about why you are writing and what he or she may need to do differently as a result. For example, a message to parents with a general subject line, such as “Payment change,” needs to be more specific, such as “Late payment due by 10th.”
Use the ABC formula for the body of the message. Write the Action needed in the first sentence or paragraph. Follow with Background, listing reasons or conditions, and end with a Concluding statement.
Write as much as necessary, but keep it succinct. People generally don’t read emails; they scan them. If you must send a long e-mail, break up text into short paragraphs, with a space between each. Use subheads or list items in bullet points.
Keep it professional. Avoid all caps, which indicates shouting, and limit exclamation points and emoticons, which can appear school-girlish.
Use plain English. Avoid abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon. Such elements may be fine for specific audiences, but they can annoy the group’s newcomers and make them feel they don’t belong.
Use care with attachments. Get permission before sending an unsolicited attachment. Remember that some recipients may have firewalls or spam blockers that automatically prevent messages with attachments from getting through.
Use punctuation correctly. Grammar books are filled with pages containing rules of punctuation. Get a quick review of the rules on websites such as Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab, http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/1/6/.
For most of your e-mail messages, you will do fine if you know the basics.
Period. Use at the end of a sentence.
Question mark. Use at the end of a question.
Exclamation point. Use at the end of a sentence to indicate great surprise or emphasis. Use sparingly in business communication.
Comma. Use to separate words and phrases, as in the following:
Colon. Use to add explanation or introduce a direct quote. Examples: She blamed her late arrival on three things: her demanding boss, a misplaced car key, and a wreck at the highway intersection. Her attitude was contrite: “I’ll leave earlier next time.”
- a list of items. Example: We bought eggs, milk, and bread.
- independent clauses, separated by a conjunction such as and or but. Example: We went to the store, but it had already closed.
- a dependent clause. Example: Because bleach is toxic, we keep it in a locked cabinet.
- a direct quote: Example: The child said, “Mine.”
- a greeting (Hi, I hope you’re….), a salutation (Jennie, do you ….), a yes-no answer (Yes, I saw the article) from other words in a sentence.
Apostrophe. Use to indicate ownership. Examples: I found Harry’s pencil. We placed flyers in all the second graders’ backpacks.
Leave the addressee (To:) blank until you’re ready to send. We’ve all hit the Send button too soon and suffered the embarrassment that followed. To avoid this goof, leave the address blank or enter your own address until you’re absolutely sure you’re ready to send the message.
Tips for responding to messages
Respond promptly. Set a time goal for replying to e-mails, such as by the end of the business day. If you need to assemble information or just want time to think or settle your emotions, let the sender know you will have a response soon.
Respond appropriately. Some messages need no response. Use your judgment in deciding whether to acknowledge receipt of a message. How important is the sender’s need to know? Ideally, a response is substantial. Instead of the “Me too” answer, give reasons why you agree or disagree. Make sure you contribute to the discussion.
Don’t pass along jokes or respond to chain letters. If a friend sends jokes regularly, ask to be taken off the list or have them re-directed to your home e-mail address. We all could use a little more humor in our lives, but they can waste time on the job and damage professionalism.
Re-think Reply All. Use Reply All only when the entire group needs to know. Recipients can get annoyed when a response does not apply to them. If communicating regularly with a group, consider suggesting that the sender indicate when Reply All is needed.
Close with “Thanks.” A simple “Thanks” is enough for the closing when responding to most business messages. A more personal closing may be appropriate for people you’ve worked with a long time.
Give adequate contact information in the sign-off. Make sure the recipient knows who you are and how to contact you by telephone and US Postal Service, if necessary. Include your website address as well.
Direct personal e-mail to your home e-mail account. Personal e-mails are distracting and time-wasting. Advise family, friends, and other non-business senders of your home e-mail account. If it’s an emergency, suggest they telephone or send a text to your cell phone.
Take steps to reduce the number of e-mails you receive. If the amount of e-mails in your inbox is overwhelming, consider ways to make them more manageable. Change settings to remove the signal alerting you that another e-mail has arrived, and plan times for checking e-mails, such as when you arrive, mid-morning, after lunch, and at day’s end. You can also unsubscribe from some lists, send some senders to junk mail, or set up a different e-mail address to give low-priority senders.
Ignore the typos and grammatical errors of senders. Pointing out another person’s errors can be perceived as judgmental and arrogant. Stick to the content of the message and the request. If a typo makes the message unclear, ask for clarification in a straightforward tone.
Update mailing lists in a timely fashion. Sending a message to everyone on a mailing list may seem like a great marketing technique, but it can also irritate some recipients. Update your mailing lists often, and make sure there are no duplications between lists. On group e-mails, include a line at the end that gives the recipient an opportunity to unsubscribe. Honor requests from those who want to be taken off your list.
Employees: Use business e-mail for personal matters?
The first priority of teachers and caregivers is to care for the children entrusted to them. How employees might use your facility’s computers for e-mailing—or their own cell phones for texting—depends on the policy you set and communicate to them in advance.
Your policy, for example, may state that e-mailing on the facility’s computer is for job purposes only—that is, the care and education of children. You may make exceptions. For example, you may allow e-mailing in certain situations and with advance approval, as in the case of a teacher communicating with committee members who are planning a potluck dinner in connection with the local professional association.
Exceptions may be made for emergency situations, although the telephone is usually faster and more direct. In addition, texting or using social media on personal cell phones might be allowed during lunch or break times.
Many businesses reserve the right to search and monitor e-mails that employees send on the company’s computers, with no advance warning. Monitoring may be necessary to assess job functioning, discover possible breaches in ethics (such as disclosure of confidential information), or investigate other personal abuses of the business system.
What is less clear is an employer’s monitoring of social media sites used by employees and job applicants. Privacy advocates argue that employers have no right to request user names and passwords of employees’ personal Facebook and other social media accounts. For more information, see “Laws Evolving on Employer Use of Social Media Sites” at investors.com (June 8, 2012).
E-mailing, like other forms of communication, is a skill that must be learned and practiced. By refining the skill, we are more likely to gain the respect and appreciation of employees, vendors, parents, and the public.