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The Downside of Email

Example 1: Five days ago I sent email to two clients letting them know about a training discount that would expire today. I got no response. Today our Client Services Manager phoned to remind them of the deadline. They both signed.

Example 2: Several times over the past few months, I emailed a “future client” to update her on our programs. Today I called her, and we moved the process forward when she asked for cost figures for her 2006 budget.

Example 3: Today I called a client to ask her a quick question. In addition to answering my question, she shared very positive feedback on my workshop, and I felt great after talking with her. That would never have happened if I had sent her an email. And I might not even have her response yet.

The downside of email is its one-sidedness. A message goes out, it does or does not get read, and it competes with hundreds of other messages–both well written and poorly written.

This month T+D (Training and Development) magazine published data on email. The data was part of research completed by Information Mapping Inc. In a survey of nearly 600 individuals from a variety of industries:

Survey respondents were asked, “What would you like to improve about your email writing skills?” Two thirds of them responded, “Get people to act or respond to my email in a timely manner.”

Yes, it’s important to get people to respond to email promptly. We can help them respond by keeping our messages short, well organized, and skimmable. Also, we can make it easy to respond by:

  • Numbering or bulleting our requests
  • Being precise about what we seek
  • Providing links to what readers need
  • Stating a reasonable deadline

With all that, though, another way to get them to respond is to pick up the phone. Connecting as human beings, we can move the process or the relationship forward.

I love email, but I love accomplishing things even more. So I’m going to keep on paying my phone bill and hoping that people are in when I call them.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.