Using email effectively - is there a right way to write?
In today's international sports world, email has been
widely adopted as one of the main forms of communication, and rightly
so. It has improved communication in many respects: it is fast,
efficient, cheap and helps organisations break the barriers of distance
from one part of the world to another. Email facilitates communication
between National Sports Federations worldwide, as well as within
headquarter and administrative offices of sports organisations.
Emails are not only used for chatting or sending out data, but they are
also being used to relay complex information and instructions. However,
mixed together with an increased load of emails to read, time pressures
and language differences, new issues have transpired. Concerns about
effectiveness are brought to light because a poorly written, unclear
email or one with an inappropriate tone can often cost a manager or
staff time, persuasiveness and credibility. One misunderstanding or
confusing email generates several replies asking for clarification, and
as a result, more time is spent on trying to figure out the information
than on actually doing work.
So, as an industry which regularly relies on email to communicate with
its members and entities around the world, what lessons can sports
organisations learn about effective email communication? Is there a
right way to write? Well, according to Harvard Business School
Publishing's 'Guide to Better Business Writing', there are better ways
to approach email in terms of content, timing and style.
Content - what do you say?
Before writing an email, ask yourself if email is the most efficient
channel for sending the content you wish to send. Will your email be
confined to concrete requests, queries or responses in a clear and
understandable manner? Does your email have a purpose? Email is useful
for these daily details of work, but when it comes to messages which
need to make a greater impact or are too complex to explain, such as a
sponsorship proposal or correspondence to government authorities, a
written letter on nice stationary, a phone call or sending the
information attached as a report or memo may suit the needs of the
communication more effectively.
The 'copy' function on email is a great tool, however only copy those
who need to be informed, such as those on the same project or of whom
you would like a response. As many people are inundated with 50 - 100
emails a day, being copied on every single email that may not affect
them directly can switch from being a really useful tool to an
Finally, and most importantly, avoid sending an email containing content
that can be used against you, such as emails including innuendos or
rumors about real people or other organisations you are dealing with. We
can all remember the infamous Enron case where incriminating emails
were resurrected and brought to the courtroom. Leave the gossip, inside
information or networking for the lunch breaks because emails are
retrievable, they do take the form of a legal document and may come back
to haunt you.
Timing - when do you say something?
A second aspect about email is to know when email should be employed,
and when it should not. Do not use email as a substitute for a
face-to-face meeting. A meeting in person or over the phone will allow
each person to thoroughly express their side and allow for immediate
explanation, which can result in a quicker resolution of the issue. As
this holds true for communication within a sports organisation in the
same location, dealing with people or members outside the immediate
vicinity may call for email as the best means for communication.
When using email to resolve a conflict, however, it must be done
carefully as misunderstandings do arise. An effort to resolve a risky
solution may end up doing more harm than good as personal "cues" such as
body language, facial gestures and tone are absent in emails, so what
you write might not look like what the reader sees. Sports organisations
constantly work amongst different cultures, so remember to take care,
as how you say it is just as important as what you say. Furthermore, an
ongoing exchange of emails between people very seldom resolves a
conflict between them, but it can very often create one!
Style - how do you say it?
The reality of both the business and sports world is that people are
content-driven, in search of solutions and time pressed. If email is the
chosen channel for communication, use reader-oriented judgment to
decide the right level of detail. To the content-driven readers, good,
clear and concise language offers a service to the reader without
calling attention to itself. Too many details, undefined jargon or
acronyms, or too many complex phrases may distract the reader; therefore
decrease the effectiveness and comprehension of the email.
One of the most important points is to match the right tone to the
occasion and audience. This involves setting the right level of
formality - how formal or informal do you want to be, and energy level -
how much strength or assertiveness do you want to have. Moreover, your
recipient may have difficulty telling if you are happy or sad, serious
or kidding, frustrated or elated. Sarcasm is particularly dangerous to
use in email. If possible, have a colleague test read your email to see
what kind of reaction they have.
Let's get emailing right before it gets even more complicated
Even though the world has gotten more efficient at using email as a main
form of communication, there still are a large number of people who
suffer from mishaps and misunderstandings because of not being able to
adjust their writing styles to this medium. Understanding the right way
to write is essential to email effectiveness for international
organisations, so let's get this right before moving on to the next
phase of instant messaging, online chats or other ways of on-line
communication that we haven't even heard of yet.