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Mediate.com

Email Management and Etiquette

by John Helie, Jim Melamed
Remember your first typing class (for those of you who had the opportunity). There was keyboarding to learn but there was almost as much protocol for typed communications that was taught.

How to and where to place the address for different types of letters, where the date goes, whether to use a semi-colon or a comma after the salutation and so on. It was important that you paid attention to details. You were conscious to not send out typos, misspellings or improperly formatted communications. The salutation set the tone of the communication the terms used in closing also conveyed relationship and emotional context.

Along came email and the rules seemed to have changed and also be changing. In the early days of email, typos and misspells were common and generally accepted. Formality went by the wayside, as did attention to detail.

Unfortunately this brought along a tendency to often also leave behind details and civility. Because email is so easy and cheap and fast, it is easy to have our communications be the same. It is important to remember that the recipient will only have our email to ponder and ponder it they will for intention and emotion. We need to be conscious of the impact of our digital communication on the recipient. There is a saying, "the meaning of your communication is the response that you get." We are here to assist you to better achieve such desirable responses. Thus, for example, in seeking best results, you may consider paying attention to such things as acknowledgment of relationship issues, respectfulness and tone of communication.

Attention to detail is important. We have perhaps all had some embarrassing moments when an email is sent to everyone on the address list and was meant only for the sender. It is also easy to leave people out with a "reply" rather than a "reply all," and this is also not generally appreciated. We both create and resolve conflicts online. The first thing that is critical is that we recognize the potential for conflict online and seek to both pre-empt and most capably resolve it. Most of all, it is suggested that you pay attention to the type of relationships that you want to create in your different online relationships.

Email has become mainstream. It is now a common form of communication, probably exceeding telephone and maybe even face-to-face meetings in terms of information transfered and number of interactions. The shear bulk of email runs the risk of compounding mistakes. Using email effectively is fast becoming an indication of our professionalism and business style. Attention to detail and even knowing what details to pay attention to is important. Keeping up with the changing communication technology is a business development activity.

As email continues to grow in use, management of the flow and storage becomes important. What do you read first? What do you delete? How do you find something sent to you three weeks ago? How do you locate something you sent out last year?

In this article, we outline some of the common aspects of most email programs. We will not be specific about the "How to". Our intent is to introduce you to common tools and aspects of most email programs and how they can help you, or trip you up. Your task will be to find these features in your email programs or to find a program which has these features.

We have identified two common email management approaches. First, leaving everything in the "Inbox" and, second, deleting everything as soon as it is read. These approaches work if you don't have much email and or if you have lots of time to deal with email. Other strategies, such as mailboxes and filters, can greatly ease life for those who are starting to get a lot of mail. One great option is to filter all that spam into the Trash mailbox! Let's begin here with a discussion of mailboxes and folders.

Mailboxes/folders:

You are all familiar with your "in box" and there is probably an "out box" and "trash." These are all mailboxes, also sometimes called folders. You want to be able to create new mailboxes. Mailboxes are a way of storing and sorting your mail. In Eudora, an email program that we will discuss, the easiest way to create a new mailbox is to click on the "mailbox" menu and then select "new."

Your mail "out box" automatically stores all messages that you have sent. Your "trash" mailbox automatically stores all messages that you delete. You may want to "empty trash" periodically. You may want to place your important outgoing messages in your electronic filing system (your mailboxes or folders) before you delete these messages. An alternative is to send yourself a copy of all of your outgoing messages and then you can file them as they come to your "in box."

Filters:

A "filter" function allows you to pre-sort your mail automatically into appropriate mailboxes. This is effective when you are on a listserve or working with a client or a work group. The first step in using filters is to create one or more appropriate mailboxes into which your filtered messages will go. You can also filter some messages into the trash. A filter identifies an address or subject or keyword in a message and, if found, sends that message to the designated mailbox. Mailboxes with new mail highlight themselves which allows you to prioritize your mail responses. Filters can help to keep your "in box" uncluttered. And assist you in locating specific messages from client, a colleague or a friend.

Nicknames/Address Books:

This function allows you to have a shorthand label for (those sometimes long) email addresses, or groups of addresses. Nicknames or "address book entries" allow you to address mail with mouse clicks or minimized keystrokes.

The real advantage of nicknames is that you can with confidence know that you have included everyone in the group and not mis-typed an email address. You only have to type the email address right one time! Most programs will allow you to make a nickname from an incoming email message. "Make address book entry" takes the address(es) in the email and creates a nickname for later use. You can also store memo's about nicknamed individuals, phone and other contact information in that person's address book/nickname entry.

Signature File(s):

A "signature file" is the few lines that are automatically added to the end of each of your outgoing email messages. Signatures can be helpful in marketing an individual's or organization's website. In most programs, the URL (uniform resource locator - address of the website) when set out in full format (e.g., "www.mediate.com") will allow the reader to double click on that URL and launch your site in their browser. It is also advisable to place your phone and fax numbers and postal address in your signature file. You really do not need to put your email address in your signature file as it will appear in the "from" field of your email message. Some people like to add their favorite quote.

A number of the newer email programs allow multiple signature files. You can often attach full text, pictures or other files to your signature or alternative signature file and automatically send along that information. Many programs also have a "Stationary " function where you can store form letters for standard replies.

Forwarding:

This function passes an email on to whomever you desire (and address). If they hit "reply", their response will come back to you.

Re-directing:

If you re-direct a piece of email and the receiver responds, their response will go to the originator of the message, allowing you to effectively get out of the loop.

Responding - Choice Points:

Do you include the original message in your reply? Do you comment at top or bottom or in middle of the incoming message? What about responding with color, bold, size, fonts, underline, links, pictures, more! My only hard and fast rule here is that if you reply and include the senders message, please begin your response at the beginning of their message. It is tedious to have to scroll through a long message only to find, "Agree" at the very bottom.

Caution!: reply or reply all?

Using the "reply" option will send only to the sender and will not send to the cc address(es). You may want to reply to only the sender, so this can be useful. There will be other times, however, where it will be important to also send your responsive message to the original cc address(es).

As the "reply" and "reply all" buttons are right next to each other in many email programs, be careful in making this selection, wanting to be sure that those who you want to get your message are properly designated. Be sure to look at the addresses listed before you hit that send button!

Subject Lines: Very Important!

If you want attention, type in the subject "Sending you money." That one works for sure. Think about capturing the essence of your message in your email subject. Email users look at their mail and decide which ones to open and which ones to open first based upon the sending address and designated subject line. The wise use of subject lines also allows you to track, filter and sort related email messages.

For example, if you are working with a group and have a multi-issue discussion taking place, begin one email to the entire group with a subject line for each specific issue. This will create multiple "discussion threads." Participants respond to each subject with their substantive responses. When ready to synthesize, you can sort by subject and pull all related email together. As described above, you can also set up filters sorting messages into appropriate mailboxes according to the designated subjects.

The other issue to consider is whether it is time, when you are responding, to change a provided subject line in your response. If a discussion wanders from the original subject (as so many discussions do), it may be helpful to specify the current context or purpose of the discussion.

Priorities and Labels:

Not all email need be created equal, not does it need to be treated the same upon receipt. Through the use of "priorities" for outgoing mail and "labels" for incoming mail, you can code email that is especially important or that needs a certain type of future action.

Personalities:

Most newer email programs will allow you to check some or all multiple email accounts. This is very convenient for people who need to check more than one account or for families or businesses that have different people using the same email program to check their respective inboxes.

Attachments:

Attachment allows you to put any computer file in a virtual egg shell and ship it in the same condition to any other person with an email address. If that recipient has appropriate software for reading the file, they can just click on the attachment and have it open. A note of caution. DO NOT OPEN attachments coming from someone you do not know. In fact be very careful in opening attachments from friends and colleagues. If you are not expecting an attachment you might err on the side of checking with the sender to see if they sent you something.

Where did it go? There is a setting in your preferences/options which allows you to select the directory to which attached files are sent and stored. The default directory for your attachments will often be the email program directory in a directory called /attachments.

You must have relatively compatible word processing software to be able to work with someone's attached files. Often saving a file as text only (ascii or .txt) or as a rich text format (.rtf format) will allow wider use.

Be careful with file extensions. A file extension is the .xxx at the end of most file names. If you are using Word as your word processing program, your files should end in ".doc". If you use WordPerfect, your files should end in ".wpd".

Sending Attachments:

Usually indicated in your program with a paper clip. You are then permitted to browse your directory to select the file to attach.

Listserves:

How do they work? A listserve is a centralized mail distributor to which you may subscribe by sending a coded message to the central machine. It can understand commands like "subscribe mail list name" or "unsubscribe mail list name". Note that the address for subscribing or unsubscribing to a list is different from the address for participating in list discussions. List managers will appreciate it if you specifically follow directions for subscribing an unsubscribing. You may want to file all listserve instructions in a created listserve mailbox.

If you are changing your email address or account, unsubscribe from your listserves before you close the email account. Neglecting to do so will cause the seemingly endless bouncing of email in the list. Then re-subscribe with your new email address. Social conventions and the technology of email continue to evolve. Attention to detail and an understanding of the technology can help you effectively, politely and efficiently use email.

On a final note. If you find that the discussion in email is getting difficult or the tone is going the wrong way or you simply do not understand; pick up the phone. Problems developed in email do not NEED to be solved in email. Sometimes it is wise to suggest an end to the current discussion and a desire to schedule a phone call to go the next step.

We have developed an array of communication options and knowing when to use each for what purpose is the real challenge.

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.

Jim Melamed co-founded Mediate.com in 1996 and has served as CEO of Mediate.com ever since.  Mediate.com received the American Bar Association's 2010 Institutional Problem Solver Award.

Before Mediate.com, Jim founded The Mediation Center in Eugene, Oregon in 1983 and served as Executive Director of the Academy of Family Mediators (AFM) from 1987 to 1993. Jim was also the first President and Executive Director of the Oregon Mediation Association (1985-86). Jim's undergraduate degree is in in psychology from Stanford University and his law degree is from the University of Oregon.Jim has received the following awards: The Oregon Mediation Association's 2003 Award for Excellence; The Oregon State Bar's 2006 Sidney Lezak Award of Excellence; The Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) 2007 John Haynes Distinguished Mediator Award; and The 2012 Academy of Professional Family Mediators (APFM) "Getting To Yes" Award.

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