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Tips On The Use Of Email

by John Helie
October 2001 John Helie
Tips that may help you be a more effective participant in an online meeting. Online meetings can be very short or extend over years; can include a few people or thousands. Pardon me if I state the obvious to some readers.

1) Learn your email program and your browser. Take the time to get beyond the absolute minimum required skills to send and receive email. Explore your computer and your communication software. Consider it professional business development. Do it with a colleague.

2) Who is on the address list? When you receive or send an email, there are four places that addresses can be located, From:, To:, CC:, and BCC, (which cannot be seen by recipients and cannot recieve replies.)

3) Blind Carbon Copy protects your address list from being grabbed and used by SPAMers When sending a message to a long list, send it to yourself and include the address list in the BCC Field. This also places your message at the top of the screen, not at the bottom of the long list of recipients.

4)Responding to email.

Reply: sending a reply to the party who initiated the email only.

Reply All: Reply to everyone in the From: and the CC: fields.

Forward: This sends the whole message and in most cases the attachments to a new address you designate.

5) Make conscience decisions about who receives your reply.
Reply: can exclude recipients who need to be included.
Reply All: can include recipients who do not need or shouldn't have the information.
Forward: Can sometimes violate the integrity of the group. Be cautious of sending email to people who do not need to know.

6) Be tolerant of too much information coming from your group. It is very easy to scan, filter and/or delete email. My personal preference is that I would rather be included on discussion that might cover topics I am concerned about, even if the main focus is not directly relevant to me. I scan and delete rapidly.

7) Design and Control your email filing system. We all have systems, some are based on chaos, others are well thought out and manageable. Control and understand your email or it will control and embarass you.

8) Learn to use filters and folders or mailboxes. Filters will direct all mail to and from a person or group, into one area. Then you can easily prioritize what you read and when. Filters avoid clutter in your inbox. I filter all mail from Mailing Lists into a specific mailbox. After I read my general incoming mail, I can then choose to read the Mailing List if I have time.

9) Use Subject lines effectively. Try to capture the topic or issue of an email in the subject line. Most programs will allow you to sort on Topic or Subject. You can also change a subject line on an email you receive, even if you do not reply. Makes it easier to find later in your system.

10) Stay on topic and hope that those who respond do the same. Avoid discussing too many issues in one email. If you are replying with a closely related but different topic, change the Subject line. An convention I like is; " Subject: New topic (Formerly previous topic)"

11) Focused email. If you wish to discuss three issues or ask three questions, send three email, each with the question or issue as the subject. Send all three email in close succession so that recipients understand that there will be a space for each discussion.

12) Be brief, ... or not! We do not want to reduce our dialogue to sound bites, but be aware that when most people see a lengthy message they are inclined to print it out. It then sits on the printer tray until they get around to some off line reading time, and a response can end up being delayed even more. In some cases this is good, we want a contemplative response.

Long messages can be appropriate when we have a need to elaborate, provide background, and create context. In such cases, it might be good to begin the message with a suggestion that they print and read.

Break the rules of Paragraph formation. It is tiring to read long paragraphs. It is often good to give paragraph breaks to each sentence. It is easier to scroll back and locate points.

13) Response speed? Should we answer every email immediately? What are the expectations of the group? Your expectations? Check it out and establish expectations with the group.

13) Include messages in replies... or not. Most email programs include the message being replied to in the reply. This can be a good thing or Not. Always begin your reply at the top of the previous message if included. You can also intersperse your comments within the previous message, but you should create space around your reply and/or change the color of your font. Sign off when you have made the last comment in context.

14) Sign your messages. "Signature files" are fine and you should figure out how to create one, but they are added to the very end of a message and if it is a long series of replies, your sig file is down at the very bottom. Don't make the recipient scroll to the bottom to see who is making a comment. Make an informal signature, it just seems more friendly.

Do not use the type of Sig files which are attachments (often called V-cards) They fill up peoples attachments directories and are generally not informative. It is becoming a netiquette no no.

15) If you do not understand the jargon of what I have said, refer to Item 1

Internet communications is much like your physical office. It takes some time to set up and get it right, and it speaks volumes about you.

Biography


As one of the founding directors of the Mediation Information and Resource Center, John Helie continues his commitment to dispute resolution and the Internet. John founded ConflictNet in 1989, as a communication, forum and information sharing network for the Conflict Resolution Practitioners community. A trained mediator and facilitator, John has pioneered work being done with online conflict and communication. His interest in conflict resolution and the Internet led to his involvement with RuleNet, an Internet/Web based Regulatory Negotiation Process sponsored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He designed software tools for building and evaluating consensus within the RuleNet project and was the first facilitator to use this technology.

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Website: www.mediate.com/jrhelie

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