Academic environments are often high stress environments – tight deadlines, tight budgets and exceedingly high standards for promotion and achievement reign. As administrators, we’re often in the position of facilitating activities that impact the advancement of research and those who carry it forward, which can generate tremendous stress.
It’s tempting to rely on e-mail and forget that we need to take the time to communicate more fully about what we’re doing in order to accomplish our work. E-mail can have important limitations, especially when communicating with people of varying age groups and cultural differences.
Improving your e-mail IQ takes a few important steps:
1. Assume the best, especially if you know the person or have worked with them for some time.Perhaps the effort is to inform, not to confuse. Perhaps they are having a bad day, and it’s not about you. If you know the person, perhaps you need more information before you can understand how to respond.
2. If you do or don’t know the person, perhaps you can conclude they don’t know the standard conventions of e-mail. Some people don’t understand that using capital letters is like shouting at the person they are sending a message to. Depending on the age of the person writing, they might prefer larger font, or turning font different colors might mean a different emphasis than what you might think.
3. Pick up the phone. Responding via e-mail will only create more confusion. Call the person to ask questions about what they have written, to understand what they are trying to tell you. Clarifying their intentions can help clear the air and get the message across without complicating matters.
4. Understand that some people are just not e-mail people and will never know how to write out what they want to say. These people will always come across as abrupt, if not rude, and confusion can occur because they don’t provide enough information in their communication. Asking for clarification is helpful, and understanding it is just a communication style, and not aimed personally at you is what is most important.
5. Remember that e-mail is not someone talking to you. People tend to read e-mails and hear that person talking to them as they do. However, people who write e-mails seldom compose them with this thought in mind, which is why this problem of tone and intention occurs in the first place. If you can keep this in mind, e-mail is like reading the newspaper, your day will be a lot smoother.
6. Keep it concise – if your email gets long or complicated then email isn’t the right means for your message.