Knowing where you're likely to run into trouble is often the only knowledge you need to avoid it. For example, wandering about your residence in the middle of the night in the dark isn't dangerous if you know the layout well, and if you know where you're likely to trip over something. And even a little bit of light helps a lot.So it is with communicating by email or text message. This post and the next describe a few of the traps most likely to lead to trouble in these text-based communication media. Here are two of them.
- Rushing to send
- If urgency requires that a message be composed and sent quickly, trading away accuracy for speed is a bad trade. Sending the wrong message quickly doesn't get the job done. I'm not thinking here about typographical errors alone, though they are indeed problematic. Typing "2 PM" when you meant "1 PM" can create a real mess.
- But by any If urgency requires that a message be
composed and sent quickly, trading away
accuracy for speed is a bad trademeasure the more serious problems cause lasting damage to relationships. Omitting someone from the "To" list is an example of a minor slip that can have major consequences for relationships.
- Following is a procedure for composing the message you actually meant to compose. Note that in some circumstances, it contains a loop from Step 5 back to Step 2.
- Write what you meant to write. Of course, you might make mistakes, but we'll get to that next.
- Read it after you write it. Make corrections if necessary.
- Let some time pass or do something else to freshen your brain. Two minutes is enough, but take more time if the message is really important.
- Read the message again. If you find something you want to change, change it.
- If you made no changes in Step 2 or Step 4, go to Step 6. If you changed anything in Step 2 or Step 4, set the message aside for a few minutes and do something else to refresh your brain. Then go to Step 2 and resume.
- If you get to this point and you feel good about the message, send it.
- This process might seem at first to be too cumbersome for urgent messages. But it's way faster than cleaning up the mess that a wrong message can create.
- Using relative dates or times
- Don't rely on relative indications of dates or times — terms such as today, tomorrow, yesterday, this afternoon, soon, after the staff meeting, and so on. The problem with relative dates and times is that they're subject to misunderstanding when you read the message at some point in the future. In the future, the message is a historical artifact. At that point, the reader is likely researching the history of something. And the reader might not immediately know the ending time of the staff meeting, or what "tomorrow" was when the message was written. Compare these two: "Tomorrow (Wednesday 3 March 1600 Eastern)" and "Tomorrow right after the staff meeting."
- Confusion can arise in other ways, too, when dates and times are stated in relative terms. For example, when communicating with people who are several time zones distant, the term "tomorrow" can have multiple meanings. Citing times in specific time zones is usually safe, but you can make the practice even safer by citing times by city rather than time zone. Using a time zone can be a source of risk around the biennial switches to or from summer time. Citing time by city can be safer if everyone knows the time in, say, New York or Bangalore.
Last wordsNext time, I'll explore four more traps we might encounter when composing email or text messages. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
- Dangerous Phrases
- I recently upgraded my email program to a new version that "monitors messages for offensive text."
It hasn't worked out well. But the whole affair got me to think about everyday phrases that do tend
to set people off. Here's a little catalog.
- When Naming Hurts
- One of our great strengths as Humans is our ability to name things. Naming empowers us by helping us
think about and communicate complex ideas. But naming has a dark side, too. We use naming to oversimplify,
to denigrate, to disempower, and even to dehumanize. When we abuse this tool, we hurt our companies,
our colleagues, and ourselves.
- Publish an Internal Newsletter
- If you're responsible for an organizational effort with many stakeholders, communicating with them is
important to success. Publishing an internal newsletter is a great way to keep them informed.
- Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: III
- When we need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, we risk giving offense. Still, there
are times when interrupting is in everyone's best interest. Here are some more techniques for interrupting
in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process.
- Formulaic Utterances: I
- With all due respect is an example of a category of linguistic forms known as formulaic
utterances. They differ across languages and cultures, but I speculate that their functions are
near universal. In the workplace, using them can be constructive — or not.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
- Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
- And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
- Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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