Email etiquette for better team interpersonal relations ??? a founders view.

Breathe while reading your email!

The nature of written and spoken words are quite different:

The spoken word carries the most potent power at the given present moment, allowing for prompt reaction, leading to conversation and thus less room for speculation.

The written word instead lives and breathes with interpretation, based on circumstances and different individual perceptions in which there is plenty of room for misunderstandings.

Therefore when working in a global team, possibly with very different cultures involved, it is best to agree on some basic ground rules not just for email but for all your written communication. From own experience I know that the following things definitely helped productivity and team spirit:

  • in our teams as a general rule we avoid the use of superlatives, as they often indicate strong emotions which may heighten the existing emotional response of the reader so that they interpret the message content in an overly emotional way.
  • we encourage each other to pro-actively start a message with the information that we are having a bad day or similar, so the (emotional) context of the subsequent writing is brought into perspective.
  • I think every existing team member now knows that we don’t write in CAPITAL letters unless it’s absolutely necessary to explain a problem, but even then – they would first consider opting for bold, italics or underline font styles instead, as they are normally sufficient to get the message across, right?
  • absolutely no swearing:  it never does or did anybody or anything any good. Do you really believe that “more better” stuff “got done” because you (as CEO or investor) swore at something or somebody? Chances are that with every time you publicly swear at something or at somebody, you – on a personal level – just lose a little bit of the respect of that team member. This may not impact ones professional standing immediately, but I am sure that it does long term, even though it seems to be a fun hobby for some leaders in the worlds startup community;
  • stopping the usage of unnecessary repetitions or irregular use of punctuation marks such as .. or ……. or ???? or ?!??? or !!!!! – what use do they have any way? Everybody interprets them differently! Using exclamation marks, full stops etc. is the historic way to communicate and nothing is wrong with them, but what exactly do overly done repetitions mean? Use a “?” for a question, the question does not become stronger if there are “??????” behind it. Use “…” and not “..” as it conveys a laissez-fair (don’t care) attitude. Using “…….” conveys “this issue is a never never ending story, I could go on and on about it -> ‘you keep failing'”

So as early as possible in the start-ups life make your team aware of these points and discuss it with them. Personal bad habits need not be easily welcomed in professional relations, it’s easy enough to at least once discuss this together →  particularly when you’re still a young and dynamic company with few staff. It’s far easier to do at this time than trying to build that into corporate company culture later.

To an extent I can understand that as the CEO of a big corporate you may not want to go into these reviews of communication styles personally. But as the Founder of a company, there is no way around this kind of thing and it is better to be prepared rather than to be taken by surprise.

This simple matter can affect productivity and progress of your company significantly, it can build good team morale, respect for each other, loyalty and can become part of your companies culture early on.

Needless to say that I’m trying hard to live up to my just posted standards!

3 thoughts on “Email etiquette for better team interpersonal relations ??? a founders view.

  1. Pingback: Startup Strategy: The Founder(s) | Toby's Blog

  2. I like your #1 and #2 Toby. It’s something I don’t always think about but very important.

    What about the sending of emails on weekends / evenings? This may sound trivial but tablets & smartphones have invaded out homes and they will draw your attention each time an email is received. As a founders or CEO, it’s an important consideration to think about when sending emails to staff. Do you expert your staff to respond on weekends?

    I’ve written a blog post on this topic http://bit.ly/NyPGe3 if you’re interested to have a read.

    • Hi Chee Wong – thanks for your input and the link to your article.

      We found #1 and #2 obvious ones and the other ones more subtle. However, I can’t believe the improvement in communication we had since we removed the CAPITAL and unnecessary repetition !!!! or irregular writing style..

      So to me personally, these two (very) simple techniques have been incredibly powerful to avoid misunderstandings, unecessary emotions and wrong interpretation of emails across an international team.

      In addition we also found that certain words, such as “kindly” – especially when followed by a “do this or that” – are culturally perceived quite differently. In one place that may be very polite whereas in another place it can sound quite pushy.

      About weekends: Unfortunately the electronic gadgets have so pervasively invaded our lives, that I don’t see a complete way out of them at this point. My music, books and other (private) stuff is stored on the very same device that I communicate with friends for a social gathering, to post a picture on Facebook or a status update on Twitter, to look at the calendar for my coming week and to maybe reply those 1-2 really urgent emails that I’m glad somebody has actually responded to even though there is a weekend as Monday morning, that work has to be ready.

      With this reality:

      1) some work simply must get done on weekends
      2) not all work is created equal
      3) all is in one place (mobile device) but without the ability to see the relevance – privately and/or professionally

      your question is not an easy one to be answered.

      Personally I’m not pushing staff to work on weekends, but, I do appreciate it. Ideally the software can sort out what is relevant to the recipient right now (and this is what we’re working on at Unified Inbox) but the sender doesn’t have to worry about interrupting somebody or ruining its weekend because he’s focused on getting stuff done in a productive time (which for many people can be on weekends).

      To me the question is not about culture or process and not even about separating business and private life modes. It is about relevancy, context and ultimately the connective flow I’m in that moment. With the advances in big data, analytics, semantics and artificial intelligence, software should now be intelligent enough to keep me connected relevantly with people and information and even provide additional context if appropriate, desired, or needed – without impacting the users personal choice or freedom (i.e. to give him the ability to turn this off at his own discretion).

      I think this will happen sooner than we think.

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