Before You Click Send on that Email

Before You Click Send on that Email

By Rose O. Sherman, RN, EdD, FAAN

There are few nurse leaders who can’t tell you a story about an email that they wished they had not sent.  The use of email has become a common method of communication at work.  Yet, a poorly written email, an email sent in anger or even the inclusion of a cute cartoon that is misinterpreted can have unintended negative consequences.   I was reminded of this the other day when a nurse manager showed me an email that one of her charge nurses had sent to another department.  It was full of accusations, and seemed way out of proportion to the incident that provoked it.  It resulted in the nurse manager having to do some major damage control.   Email etiquette is very important in any nursing leadership role.

So before you send that email, ask yourself the following questions:

1.  What am I trying to achieve in sending this email?

Researchers at the McKinsey Global Institute found in a recent workplace study that the average employee spends 28% of their time each week writing, reading or answering email.  They estimate that up to 25% of this time could be reduced if email was used more effectively.  Keeping in mind that emails are time consuming to read, it is important to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve with the email.  Emails containing non-work related stories or jokes are often annoying to recepients and waste time.

2.  Is an email the right form of communication for this message?

It is easy to misinterpret information that is communicated in email messages.  Misunderstandings that could easily be cleared up in a face to face conversation or by phone can quickly escalate in email exchanges.  Email can be a great way to commend someone but is rarely the right way to address performance issues.  If you need to discuss a controversial subject, an email may not be the best way to do this.  You can unintentionally create a firestorm of conflict.  Email should also be avoided as a form of conversation among a group of people.  It is easy to lose track of the conversation threads.

3.  Am I angry as I write this?

Emails that are written in the heat of anger are rarely effective.  Accusatory or nasty emails can actually be career limiting.  Michael Hyatt, a leadership expert, advises that  “if it makes you feel better, go ahead and write the message, then delete it. Usually a day or two after you didn’t send an angry e-mail, you’ll understand the wisdom of restraint.”

4.  Is this email being sent only to people who need this information?

The volume of email is escalating throughout all work environments.  Recepients understandably get inpatient with unnecessary emails.  Michael Hyatt observes that, as a rule of thumb, the more people you send an email to, the less likely any single person will respond to it, much less perform any action that you requested. The people you include in the “To” field should be the people you expect to read and respond to the message. The “CC” field should be used sparingly. You should only CC people who have a need to stay in the know.  Don’t send the message as high priority unless it is in fact very important.

5   Does the email have a subject that will get the attention of the reader?

A strong subject line will grab the attention of the reader and make it more likely that your email will be read.  Emails with a blank subject line sometimes are inadvertently deleted by busy recepients who scan their incoming mail.

6.  Is my message brief and to the point?

Email messages that are too long, poorly-written or ineffective in conveying their purpose can cause confusion, unnecessary back-and-forth, loss of time and productivity, and frustration.  A good email should get the response and the result you desire while presenting yourself in the best possible way.  Keep your email messages to two or three paragraphs.  Make sure your purpose is clear – ex. do you need action from the recipient, more information or are you giving information.  Emails should contain a both a personalized greeting and your signature line.

7.  Have I checked the email for grammar and spelling?

I once worked for a senior nurse leader who frequently sent out emails that were full of grammatical errors and misspellings.  Her message was often lost as staff printed out the emails and circled the errors.  Always read the email you typed before you send it.  Make sure the font is large enough to read and avoid colored backgrounds on your messages.

8.  Would I feel good about this email if it was presented in court as evidence in a case?

Email messages that you write are a permanent written record of your communication.  Once you send the email, you can no longer control who sees the message.  Work emails can and have been used in court cases against employers.  If a staff member has a performance issue, leaders need to be very careful about what they write in their emails.  Likewise, emails about problems with patient safety and quality should also be avoided.

Marsha Egan, an email coach and book author reminds us that your staff and other leaders in the organization “draw conclusions about your professionalism every time anything you do touches them, and email provides more touches in a day than telephone or in person discussions.  This is good advice to keep in mind before you click send on that email.

Read to Lead

Egan, M. (2008).  Inbox Detox.  Acanthus Publishing.

Hyatt, M.  (2007).  Email Etiquette 101 Blog. 

© 2012