E-mail provides a convenient way to communicate with others. With ease, we can distribute a memo to dozens of colleagues, forward on a useful newsletter filled with informative articles, or send a message across the country (or world) in a matter of moments. However, as easy as it is to send an e-mail, we may not always recognize how to best use e-mail in an effective manner.

Throughout the course of the day, you may need to share information with colleagues, peers, and members of your staff. When should you use e-mail to send your messages, and when might you consider using another mode of communication? In their bookOrganizational Behavior: Tools for Success, Second Edition, Jean M. Phillips and Stanley M. Gully provide “netiquette” tips that will serve managers well in the office environment. We’ve adapted them to reflect the situations you may face in your role as an educator:

  • Don’t use e-mail to dismiss personnel or to communicate other bad news. Your body language, eye contact, facial expression, and tone of voice will be missed—and thus part of your intent may be missed as well. Therefore, if you must share something that has the potential to cause distress, it’s best to do so in person.
  • Don’t discuss job-performance issues or other conflicts via e-mail. Take time to speak with the other person, face to face, in a private setting.
  • Don’t discuss personal disputes or other conflicts via e-mail. It’s all too easy for your message to be inadvertently (or intentionally) distributed to the last person you want that e-mail to reach. A message that arrives in the wrong hands could also lead to gossip, hurt feelings, or even potential legal issues.
  • Don’t use e-mail as a substitute for conversation. Because it’s so easy to send off an e-mail, you may be tempted to use it in lieu of meetings or teleconferences. However, if you want to strengthen connections and relationships with colleagues, nothing can quite replace the benefits you gain by getting together in one room (or, if that option is not available, via telephone or web conference).
  • Don’t use e-mail to convey complex or complicated messages. If you find it challenging to write your message in a clear manner, or if you sense that it may be misconstrued, communicate in person or via telephone. (446)

Reference: Phillips, Jean M. and Gully, Stanley M. 2014. Organizational Behavior: Tools for Success, Second Edition. Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.
What are your best practices for using e-mail as a communication tool? Have any “cautionary tales” you’d like to share? Share them below.