Posted Sunday, February 20, 2005
There is a saying that goes, “The best offense is a great defense”. Nowhere is that applied better in the corporate world than in the intelligent use of email. In this age of technology, E-mail is a multi-purpose tool that can be adapted into each user’s organizational patterns. Firstly, we will get the basic do’s and don’ts out of the way.
Do not use your work address when filling out forms on external sites. This can bring large amounts of SPAM that may alert your IT department into watching your activities more closely. Free Internet based mail, such as Hotmail, are your best options.
Do not transmit any questionable material to co-workers. Especially in large companies where you may have more than one John Smith working, sending of any sexually explicit, or offensive materials to the wrong person can get you fired. And do not forget, Big Brother is always watching. Software development have reach the point where IT developments can scan your emails for keywords, and view the message themselves.
Never send out an email in anger. The written word is a powerful thing. Angry mail can set off a flurry of responses, with expanding distribution lists. If you were wrong, even one point on your multiple point attack, the entire content will be subject to criticism. If you were right, everyone on that list, and all who have heard about it, will be apprehensive about you at some point in the future.
Those basic examples are known to most, but followed by few. Do not give your company an advantage over you, especially one that could have been avoided so easily. Companies undergo constant evolution, via acquisitions, downsizing, shifting focus. You never know who you are going to report to, or which company you may end of working for. The rules described here, both basic and advanced, should be applied at all times, including relationships with your Vendors. Either through a mutual project, or merger, you may find yourself working with someone you used to sit on opposites sides against. Working on how best to protect yourself is aided with email, so take the time to learn how to use your email system to its fullest extent. Here are some for advanced tips to follow:
Organize your local folders into detailed categories. How you choose to do so, it dependant on both the individual, on the position they have. If you manage staff, you will want it broken down into names, and years. If you work primarily on projects, then you will want different project names and products. Just try not to have more than 1 sub-folder. Files get lost if you have to try and look too deep.
Sectionalize all your email into those folders. If a particular email needs to be followed up, then set a flag to remind you. Best to set your flags at least one - two days prior, so it doesn’t take you by surprise.
If your local inbox is clogging up your computer, save all your files to CD, portable devices, or some other storage facility. You may have to contact your IT department for more details. Make sure you properly identify each stored containment unit for easy information retrieval.
With this on-going 3-step system, you will be able to better protect yourself against the day-to-day issues that happen in the corporate world. Here are some examples of how you can use email to your advantage:
Confirm everything in writing. Some managers refuse to send you details of their requests in writing. They will speak to you about it and expect you to take notes or remember. However, if something goes wrong as a direct result of implementing their order, most managers will not accept responsibility. I have been witness to this more times than I care to remember.
To combat this, I developed the perfect defense mechanism. I would document the request, the deliverables, and the actions to be taken as directed by my boss, and send it back to them in writing. I would NOT ask for a reply, nor would I copy others unless they were involved at the same level with me (team directive). It was enough that we both knew I could protect myself. This non-verbal action also allowed the work relationship to continue amicably.
Keep everything. Sent folders, company mail, attachments, presentations, even your deleted mail. In doing so, you will be able to confront any mis-information directed towards you. All email applications have a search filter that you can use to easily find what you are looking for. You may have to parse through hundreds of emails by the same person, but it would be worth it.
Some aggressive emails must first be responded to in person. There are individuals who like to pretend they are Napoleon in emails, but when you meet them, they are just short. Napoleonic characters are themselves intimidated when forced to verbalize their issues. Once the issue is settled, only then do a reply all that starts with the words, “As we discussed…”
Never engage in written volleys. If people start to be added to the distribution list, cut the next response short. Emails should never be a substitute for discussion. The moment you say this beginning to happen, you should send out your next email with “ In order to find a resolution, can we set up a bridge to discuss further”. You can also just call the person directly, although it should be done in the same tone.
In the event that you must respond, to what can only be considered an attack, via email, then take the time to find an objective 3rd party to read through it. It is important that you do not leave any holes or gaps in your arguments. You must remove all emotion from your text, and concentrate on basic facts. More importantly, the tone should always focus on resolution of the problem, and on the solution for what is being attacked.
Executives are always looking for people that can remain objective, and who do not point fingers. The written word can serve as your best example of maintaining those qualities. In the event that an issue gets escalated to the execute level, you do not want them looking at you as a hothead, or a bulldog.
About the Author
Gary Whittaker is the managing editor at TEN Magazine. You can check out more stories on a variety of subjects over at (http://www.tenwebzine.com). firstname.lastname@example.org