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why is efficiency one of the primary goals when sending routine messages?

After studying this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

LO7.1 Apply principles for writing effective emails.

LO7.2 Explain how to handle emotion effectively in online communications.

LO7.3 Describe strategies for managing digital message overload.

LO7.4 Explain characteristics of the emerging Social Age.

LO7.5 Apply principles of effective social media use in professional settings.

LO7.6 Build a credible online reputation.

LO7.7 Describe the ethical use of social media for work.

Learning Objectives

Email and Social Media for Business Communication

C h

a p

t er

S ev

en

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WHY DOES T HIS MATTER?

For nearly two decades, email has been the primary written business communication tool. In Table 7.1 , you can see that in a recent study, it ranked second in effectiveness among communication channels for coordinating work. 1 Even with so many emerging communication tools, email remains the channel of choice . 2 Writing emails will likely consume much of your time early in your career. One study showed that corporate employees spend 25 percent of their days on email- related tasks. By comparison, they spend 14 percent of their time in personal meet- ings and 9 percent of their time in phone conversations. 3 Another study found that corporate workers average 14.5 hours per week reading and responding to email. 4 The number of emails that business profes- sionals deal with is astound- ing; the average business professional receives 58 le- gitimate (non-spam) emails per day and writes 33. By 2015, business profession- als are projected to receive 71 emails per day and write 41. 5 Emails, however, are not efficient for all types of writ- ten communication. Typically, email is most appropriate for private communication. For team and networked commu- nication, social media tools such as blogs and wikis are generally more efficient (see Chapter 2 for distinctions between private, team, and net- worked communication). Many businesses are now adopting social media (often used nearly synonymously with terms such as Web 2.0 , Enterprise 2.0, social networking , social software , and a variety of other terms) for internal use; however, these tools still account for a small percentage of business communication. This will change rapidly over the next decade. Some analysts project that social media tools will dominate busi- ness communication by the year 2020. 6 In this chapter we first focus on email in the workplace. Then, we discuss the evolv- ing adoption of social media tools, which is transforming work culture into the Social Age. Next, we describe how blogs, wikis, and other social media tools are being used. We conclude with sections about managing your online reputation and using social media ethically. Examples throughout the chapter come from the chapter case about the Prestigio Hotel. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with this case prior to reading the remainder of the chapter.

? TABLE 7.1

Most Effective Communication Channels for Coordinating Work

Skills Percentage of Business

Professionals

1. Scheduled meetings

2. Email

3. Landline phone

4. Cell phone

5. File sharing

6. Informal conversations

7. Texting

8. Instant messaging

9. Private messages on social networking platforms

10. Group messages on social networking platforms

89

84

75

72

57

45

41

29

15

12

Source: Peter W. Cardon, Melvin Washington, Ephraim A. Okoro, Bryan Marshall, and Nipul Patel, “Cross-Generational Perspectives on How Mobile Phone Use for Texting and Calling Infl uences Work Outcomes and Work Relationships,” pre- sented at the Association for Business Communication Southeast Conference, Charleston, South Carolina, April 1, 2011. Note: Percentages based on the number of business professionals who rated communication channel as effective or extremely effective in their current jobs.

Hear Pete Cardon explain why this

matters.

bit.ly.com/CardonWhy7

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178 Part Three Principles for Business Messages

Chapter Case: Communicating with Emails and Social Media at the Prestigio Hotel

Who’s Involved

Andrea Garcia, general manager

Nancy Jeffreys, director of marketing

Jeff Anderton, marketing assistant

Kip Yamada, marketing associate

Barbara Brookshire, director of conventions

Marketing Team

Situation 1

Situation 2

Situation 3

Barbara Uses Emails with Clients to Establish Terms Barbara leads efforts to negotiate contract terms for conferences. Generally, representatives of busi- nesses and other organizations contact Barbara by phone or email. After an initial phone consulta- tion and an on-site visit with potential clients, Barbara handles most of the marketing and negotiation by email. Before a deal is done, she typically sends and receives 20 emails with any given client to respond to questions and concerns and to finalize terms of the agreement.

Nancy and Kip Handle a Delicate Situation by Email Nancy, the director of marketing, and Kip, a marketing associate, recently had a conflict that gener- ated hard feelings. Nancy harshly criticized Kip for making what she believed were unauthorized

refunds to some business travelers. Kip thought Nancy was unjustified. After several months of not working well together, they aired their grievances to one another. Nevertheless, Kip still had some unresolved issues and decided to send a quick email to Nancy expressing his feelings about the conversation.

The Marketing Team Adopts Social Media for Team Communication The entire marketing team has recently started using enterprise social software (which functions in many ways like Facebook but is customized for use within an organization). The team is using blogs, wikis, and other tools to follow up with one another related to action items agreed on in meetings, discuss ongoing projects and campaigns, and update one another about their accomplishments.

Task 1 How will Barbara

manage emails to show professionalism and

increase her likelihood of success with prospects?

(See the section on creating effective emails.)

Task 3 How will the marketing

team use social media to work more efficiently together?

(See “Internal Communication Tools for the Social Age.”)

Task 2 How will Kip compose an email in an emotionally charged situation? How

will Nancy respond? (See the “Manage Emotion and Maintain Civility”

section.)

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Email and Social Media for Business Communication Chapter Seven 179

Creating Effective Emails Email communication is the primary form of written business communication. Most analysts expect it to be the primary tool for at least the next five to ten years in most companies. 7 Some forward-thinking companies are increasingly adopting social net- working platforms (SNPs) for employee communication (discussed later); however, even in companies that adopt these SNPs, employees will continue to use private elec- tronic messages within these platforms, which function nearly identically to emails. Furthermore, many of your colleagues, clients, and other contacts will likely prefer to use email systems for many years to come.

Writing effective emails involves applying the principles of writing style that we discussed in Chapters 5 and 6. It also involves adapting to the unique characteristics of email. In this section, we explain basic principles for using emails effectively, includ- ing the basic components that ensure ease of reading. Then, we focus on managing emotion and maintaining civility in electronic communications.

Use Email for the Right Purposes Email is easy and convenient. Before quickly sending out an email, however, consider whether it is the best communication channel for your work purposes.

Since emails are not rich—meaning lacking in virtually all verbal and nonverbal cues associated with face-to-face communication and lacking immediate feedback— they are best suited for routine, task-oriented, fact-based, and nonsensitive messages. 8 Communication specialist Alan Murray, in a Wall Street Journal article called “Should I Use Email?” explained:

To avoid miscommunication, we suggest a simple rule: Email can be used effectively as a means to pass on straight facts, or to provide praise and encouragement. But it shouldn’t be used to chastise, scold, or deliver bad news. If the message you are delivering is a discouraging one, it’s best to deliver it in person. 9

Email communication has few constraints (low cost, little coordination) and high control (the writer can think them out carefully, and they provide a permanent record). Yet because it is not a rich form of communication, it is rarely appropriate for sensitive or emotional communication tasks. It is also inefficient for facilitating discussions.

Ensure Ease of Reading In all written communication, ensuring ease of reading is critical. It is even more criti- cal in emails and other digital messages. Simply put, your readers are unlikely to read your message unless you make it easy for them. Compare the ease of reading in the less-effective and more-effective examples of emails in Figures 7.1 and 7.2 . Think about how quickly a reader can process the information. Also, use the following tips to ensure ease of reading in your emails.

Provide a Short, Descriptive Subject Line Message recipients make im- mediate judgments about the importance of a message based on the subject line. If it is not clear and compelling, recipients may not open the message right away. Further- more, when business professionals search for prior email messages, they often scan the subject lines in their in-boxes. Without a descriptive subject line, they may miss the message. Good subject lines are generally five to ten words long. By contrast, poor sub- jects are either too short (1 or 2 words) and thus nondescriptive or too long (12 words or longer) and thus difficult to process. Fundamentally, subject lines frame your entire message; they serve the same role that headlines do in newspapers and magazines.

Keep Your Message Brief Yet Complete Get to the point within three or four sentences, and keep your paragraphs about half the size of those in business

LO7.1 Apply principles for writing effective emails.

Principles of Effective Emails

• Use for the right purposes.

• Ensure ease of reading.

• Show respect for time.

• Protect privacy and confidentiality.

• Respond promptly. • Maintain

professionalism and appropriate formality.

• Manage emotion effectively.

• Avoid distractions.

Components of Effective Emails

• Subject line • Greeting* • Message • Closing* • Signature block* • Attachments* * optional

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180 Part Three Principles for Business Messages

documents—ideally 30 to 50 words long. Consider placing the most critical informa- tion at the beginning so readers gather the most relevant information immediately. This is an important strategy, since most people are so inundated with messages that they often pay more attention to the beginning, skimming or skipping latter portions. This is especially important as business professionals increasingly use mobile devices.

Clearly Identify Expected Actions Most emails are intended to spur ac- tion. Effective emails contain specific and clear requests so that recipients know ex- actly how to respond. In many cases, you can place these directions in the subject line for greatest clarity.

Provide a Descriptive Signature Block Signature blocks should provide clear contact information. This allows recipients to easily contact you through richer communication channels if needed. It also enhances your professional image.

Use Attachments Wisely Attachments allow business professionals to share files that do not display effectively in an email window. Messages that are more than several paragraphs long are typically appropriate as attachments. Also, pictures and other graphics, spreadsheets, databases, and many other types of files are nearly al- ways more appropriate as attachments. However, be careful about sending attachments that are too large, since they may fill others’ email boxes.

Show Respect for Others’ Time Since email communication is so convenient, some people overuse and even abuse it. With business professionals sending and receiving hundreds of emails each week, they often experience information overload and email fatigue. Every time you write an email, you might want to envision your colleagues and clients who are receiving them. Imagine their time pressures and the line of emails awaiting their response. Assume they will likely have low tolerance for poorly written, sloppy, unclear emails.

Nondescriptive subject line

Nondescriptive document name

Poorly spaced, cluttered text

Unhelpful signature block

Unprofessional tagline

FIGURE 7.1

Less-Effective Email

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Email and Social Media for Business Communication Chapter Seven 181

Clear, detailed subject line

Clearly labeled document

Pleasant opening

Complete, professional signature line

Pleasant closing

Numbered format leads to rapid processing of information

References to details and specific locations in the attachment lead to rapid and complete processing

FIGURE 7.2

More-Effective Email

In the business world, where time pressures can be overwhelming, you can engen- der goodwill by writing emails that are professional, relevant, easy to read, and other- oriented. To show your respect for others when sending email, consider the following advice.

Select Message Recipients Carefully Before sending an email, think about the workload you are creating for your colleagues or other message recipients. Not only do they commit time to reading your email, but they also often interrupt an- other work task to do so. If you are requesting information or action, your colleagues are further committed in terms of time. So, make sure the email is necessary and rel- evant for each of your message recipients.

Provide Timelines and Options If you use email to coordinate tasks with deadlines, provide detailed information about time frames and your availabilities. If you are setting up appointments, make sure you have provided several options. By

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182 Part Three Principles for Business Messages

clearly providing timelines and schedules, you minimize the number of emails needed to coordinate your efforts, thus saving time. By providing options, you show respect for your colleagues’ schedules.

Be Careful about Using the Priority Flag You will routinely make re- quests of others that are time-sensitive. If you too often set the priority flag on such emails, your colleagues may become annoyed, perceiving you as pushy. In fact, some business professionals are more likely to ignore emails when the priority flag is set. If you need something urgently, mention it politely in the subject line or use a rich com- munication channel such as a phone call to gain buy-in.

Let Others Know When You Will Take Longer Than Anticipated to Respond or Take Action If you can’t respond to a request made in an email, reply immediately and explain how soon you can respond in full. You might use phrases such as “I will respond to your email by next Tuesday,” or “I can take care of this by the end of next week.”

Avoid Contributing to Confusing and Repetitive Email Chains Email chains are groups of emails that are sent back and forth among a group of people. As the number of messages and people involved in an email chain increases, confusion can build. Consider the following complaint of a business professional:

One of my biggest pet peeves has to do with forwards. My company will often send out a corporate email to the all-hands list, then a program manager will forward that email to the same all-hands list “in case you didn’t get this,” then the department head will forward the same email back to the same all-hands list “in case you didn’t get this.” Often another layer or two of management feels compelled to forward the same email down to their organizational levels for the same reason. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I often have to delete the same email five or six times! Please, if you’re in the habit of forwarding announcements for “FYI” reasons, pay attention to which lists you’re forwarding to and which people are already on those lists. 10

Three features contribute to email chains: forward, copy, and reply to all . The for- ward feature allows you to send any message you receive to others with the click of the mouse. As always, make sure that those you are forwarding the message to need to see the email. Also, consider whether the original sender would consider it appropriate for you to forward the email to others; after all, he or she did not place those people on the original email. Similarly, many business professionals consider use of the blind carbon copy feature a breach of privacy. Furthermore, the ease of forwarding and copying can create other problems. Once you send an email, you have no control over whether oth- ers will forward it, and to whom, which leads to a good standard articulated by Tony DiRomualdo, strategy and IT researcher: “Don’t say anything you would not want the entire planet to read at some point.” 11

Many business professionals use the copy feature liberally to let everyone in a de- partment or work unit in on the conversation. Of course, one of your goals is transpar- ency, allowing others in your relevant work group to know how decisions are being made. But copying too many people can lead to information overload. Furthermore, copying too many people on an email can dilute responsibility. When five or six people receive an email about accomplishing a specific task, uncertainty may arise about ex- actly who is supposed to do what. The more people you copy, the less likely you will get a response. Also, some people perceive copying a direct supervisor or boss on emails between peers as a subtle power play. 12

The reply to all feature can contribute to confusing email chains in many of the same ways as the forward and copy features. In an email conversation of more than four or five people, various message recipients can lose track of the sequence of messages or miss some messages altogether. Reply email chains become especially confusing when

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Email and Social Media for Business Communication Chapter Seven 183

some colleagues are using just the reply feature whereas others are using the reply to all feature. One advantage of team blogs and wikis in the workplaces is that they remove some of the inefficiencies and confusion of email chains by placing messages and shared content in a central location rather than in various, separate email boxes.

Protect Privacy and Confidentiality Be careful about not spreading—purposely or inadvertently—sensitive or confidential information. Since emails are so convenient to send, even the rare mistake in an ad- dress line can result in damaging professional consequences. Consider, for example, that eight out of ten marketing and advertising executives say they have made mistakes via email, such as sending job offers to the wrong people or revealing confidential salary information to the entire company. 13 Double-checking that you have placed the correct people in the address line before you hit the send button is a worthwhile habit that requires just a few extra moments.

Respond Promptly Most business professionals expect fast responses to emails. Of course, what seems like a quick response to one person seems like a delayed response to another. One re- cent study of business professionals found that nearly all business professionals expect an email response within one day (see Figure 7.3 ). 14 Younger professionals are more likely to expect a response immediately. The majority of business professionals in all age groups expect a response within one to two hours. If you choose not to check your email more than a few times a day (a strategy recommended later in the chapter), let others know how soon to expect replies.

Maintain Professionalism and Appropriate Formality Email communication is typically considered fairly formal. Many business profes- sionals are particularly sensitive to “sloppy” email. Management consultant Beverly Langford reported what thousands of business leaders have observed about an overly casual attitude toward email use:

Many people seem to forget that email is, in fact, written communication, and, consequently, treat it much less carefully. Workplace email messages often contain terse and offhand remarks and project a flippant attitude that is sometimes excessive, even bordering on the unprofessional. Those who write the emails often seem to be overlooking how their

FIGURE 7.3

Appropriate Response Time to Emails Source: Peter W. Cardon, Melvin Washington, Ephraim A. Okoro, Bryan Marshall, and Nipul Patel, “Cross-Generational Perspectives on How Mobile Phone Use for Texting and Calling Influences Work Outcomes and Work Relationships,” presented at the Association for Business Com- munication Southeast Conference , Charleston, South Carolina, April 1, 2011.

31–40

21–30

41–50A g

e G

ro up

51–65

0 25 50 75 100

Percentage of Business Professionals

Immediately Within 1 hour Within 2 hours Within a day

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184 Part Three Principles for Business Messages

message is coming across to the receiver. Further, when composing emails, many people don’t seem to be nearly as concerned with structure and correctness as they would be when putting something on paper. This . . . is ironic because often many more people see an email than would ever see a hard copy of a memo or letter because it’s so easy for the recipient to forward an email to anyone he or she chooses. 15

Unfortunately, since so many more people can potentially see an email than would ever see a hard copy of a message, having high standards is even more important. In the past few years, a preference has emerged for less formal, stuffy writing. Still, you’ll want to achieve a balance between formality and the friendliness associated with casual writing. Generally, you are better off erring on the side of too much formality as opposed to too much casualness. Consider the following recommendations.

Avoid Indications That You View Email as Casual Communication Certain casual ways of writing and formatting appear unprofessional—for example, using all lowercase letters or nonstandard spelling (i.e., hey barbara, how r u ), using excessive formatting (i.e., flashy background colors, unusual fonts), providing extra- neous information in the signature line (i.e., favorite quotations), and typing in all caps (IMPLIES ANGER). Humor and sarcasm, too, can be misinterpreted in digital com- munications, even among close colleagues. Furthermore, even when considered funny, it can draw attention away from your central message.

Apply the Same Standards of Spelling, Punctuation, and For- matting You Would for Other Written Documents Carefully review your message for typos, spelling, punctuation, or grammatical problems before send- ing it. For important messages, consider first composing with word processing soft- ware. This will help you apply a higher level of seriousness. In addition, you’ll be able to use spell-check and grammar-check features that are more reliable than those within email systems. Finally, you can ensure that you do not inadvertently send the message without making sure it is polished and complete.

Use Greetings and Names Although not technically required, consider using short greetings and the names of your message recipients. As one of Dale Carnegie’s most famous pieces of networking advice goes, “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest most important sound in any language.” 16 This advice applies to most communication situations, including emails. People leave out names in emails for several reasons. Some professionals view the use of greetings and names as exces- sively formal, resembling letters. Other professionals view emails as the equivalent of memos. In fact, the layout of most emails—with a recipient line, sender line, and subject line—resembles memos. Traditionally, the format for memos calls for omitting a personal greeting and name.

In a recent study, a communication researcher was given access to the emails in two organizations. One was a low-morale organization and one was a high-morale organization. She found that the presence or absence of greetings and names at the beginning of emails was a strong indicator of company climate (see Figure 7.4 ). 17 In the low-morale organization, just 20 percent of the emails contained greetings, and just 36 percent contained names. By contrast, in the high-morale organization, 58 percent contained greetings, and 78 percent contained names. The same trend was shown in closings. In the low-morale organization, just 23 percent of the emails contained a po- lite closing and a name compared to 73 percent in the high-morale organization.

The conventions of using greetings and names are sometimes dropped as an email chain emerges and functions much like a conversation. Typically, feelers (those with the strongest people-orientation) show a stronger preference for greetings and names. If you’re having an ongoing email exchange with a feeler and you notice that he or she is using a formal greeting in each email, consider reciprocating. On the other hand, if you’re a feeler and like to see greetings and names in every email but your colleagues

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Email and Social Media for Business Communication Chapter Seven 185

are not doing so, avoid getting hung up on it. Assume that they view emails much like memos or that they view excessive use of greetings and names in back-and-forth email chains as repetitive and unnecessary.

Manage Emotion and Maintain Civility Many managers cite the lack of emotion in emails as positive. They see email as a channel that allows the exchange of messages in minimal form—objective, task-based, and straightforward. As one manager explained, “With email I find myself answering without all the kindness necessary to keep people happy with their job.” 18

Yet, avoiding emotion entirely, even for task-based messages, is nearly impossible. Business professionals often want to invoke some emotion—perhaps enthusiasm or a sense of urgency. Even when senders intend to convey a relatively nonemotional mes- sage, recipients may experience an emotional reaction.

In the absence of face-to-face communications, emails tend to elicit either the neu- trality effect or the negativity effect. The neutrality effect means that recipients are more likely to perceive messages with an intended positive emotion as neutral. That is, the sender may wish to express enthusiasm about an event, but the receiver decodes the information without “hearing” the enthusiasm. 19 The negativity effect means that recipients are more likely to perceive messages that are intended as neutral as nega- tive. 20 The effects of emotional inaccuracy due to the neutrality and negativity effects can lead to conflict escalation, confusion, and anxiety. 21 Expert business communica- tors remain aware of these tendencies.

Two characteristics of asynchronous electronic communications can lead to feel- ings of anger and frustration more so than in face-to-face communications. First, peo- ple often feel comfortable writing things they would not say in person. In some cases, this sense of online freedom leads to flames, which are emails or other digital commu- nications with “hostile intentions characterized by words of profanity, obscenity, and insults that inflict harm to a person or an organization.” 22

The second aspect of asynchronous electronic communications that can lead to anger and frustration is cyber silence, which is nonresponse to emails and other com- munications. During the nonresponse stage, message senders often misattribute expla- nations for the silence. They sometimes wonder if message recipients are purposely avoiding or even ignoring them. 23 As the length of time between messages increases, they often experience more frustration and anger. 24

As a message sender, grant the benefit of the doubt to your recipients when re- sponses take longer than you expected. Instead of getting frustrated, consider giving them a phone call. Keep in mind that they may have different expectations about a

LO7.2 Explain how to handle emotion effectively in online communications.

FIGURE 7.4

Use of Email Greetings and Names in a Low-Morale and a High-Morale Organization Source: Data from Joan Waldvogel, “Greetings and Closings in Workplace Email,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12, no. 2 (2007).

75

50

25

0 No

Greeting Greeting

Word Only

59

17

5 5

21 25

15

53

Name Only

Greeting Word + Name

P er

ce nt

ag e

of E

m ai

ls

Low-morale organization High-morale organization

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186 Part Three Principles for Business Messages

reasonable time frame to respond to your email. If they routinely take longer than you expect, politely mention that you would appreciate quicker responses.

In Chapter 2, we discussed the importance of civility. Civility is likewise important in electronic communication. Cyber incivility is the violation of respect and consid- eration in an online environment based on workplace norms. Research has shown that “fast-paced, high-tech interactions may add to incivility, as people believe that they do not have time to be ‘nice’ and that impersonal contacts [such as electronic communica- tions] do not require courteous interaction.” 25

Shockingly, recent research shows that 91 percent of employees reported experienc- ing either active or passive cyber incivility from supervisors in the workplace. 26 Active incivility involves direct forms of disrespect (i.e., being condescending, demeaning, saying something hurtful). Passive incivility involves indirect forms of disrespect (i.e., using emails for time-sensitive messages, not acknowledging receipt of emails, not re- plying to emails). Cyber incivility has been shown to lead to lower job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Active incivility was the most damaging. In Figure 7.5 , you can see a summary of this research. One interesting finding was that male and female supervisors engaged in different types of incivility. Male supervisors were far more likely to engage in active incivility, whereas female supervisors were far more likely to engage in passive incivility.

FIGURE 7.5

Active and Passive Incivility from Supervisors Source: Vivien K.G. Lim and Thompson S.H. Teo, “Mind Your E-manners: Impact of Cyber Incivility on Employees’ Work Attitude and Behavior,” Information & Management 46 (2009): 419–425. Copyright © 2009, with permission from Elsevier.

1009080706050403020100

Active and Passive Incivility through Emails of Supervisors (Percentage of Employees Who Stated Their Current Supervisor Had Engaged in

Email Incivility)

Put you down or was condescending to you in some way through emails.

Active Email Incivility

Passive Email Incivility

Said something hurtful to you through emails.

Made demeaning or derogatory remarks about you.

Used emails to say negative things about you that he/she wouldn’t say to you face-to-face. 

Used emails for time-sensitive messages.

Not replying to your emails at all. 

Did not acknowledge receipt of your emails.

Used emails for discussions that would require face-to-face dialogue.

Female supervisors Male supervisors

22% 60%

23% 59%

26% 58%

28% 62%

80% 40%

40% 84%

85%

86%

1009080706050403020100

42%

44%

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Email and Social Media for Business Communication Chapter Seven 187

Inevitably, you will be the target of what you consider uncivil electronic commu- nications. In nearly all situations, your goal should be to avoid escalation. You can take several steps to constructively address uncivil emails: reinterpretation, relaxation, and defusing. Reinterpretation involves adjusting your initial perceptions by making more objective, more fact-based, and less personal judgments and evaluations. When people are distressed, they often make extreme, subjective, and overly personal judg- ments. By reinterpreting the event, you allow yourself to take the communication less personally. This is easier said than done. Many people engage in relaxation techniques to help constructively reinterpret the event. Relaxation involves releasing and over- coming anger and frustration so that you can make a more rational and less emotional response. People use a variety of methods to alleviate the physiological impact of anger, including counting to ten, taking time-outs, engaging in deep breathing, and looking for the humor in the situation. 27

In the opening case, you learned that Kip was frustrated with his direct supervisor, Nancy. Kip, perhaps unwisely, fired off an angry email (see the bottom message in Figure 7.6 ), and Nancy responded (the top message in Figure 7.6 ). Whether he was correct or not about Nancy’s approach to guest service is somewhat beside the point. Email is rarely an effective communication channel to air complaints or to discuss emotionally charged issues. Figure 7.7 presents a more-effective response from Nancy to this exchange.

Defusing involves avoiding escalation and removing tension to focus on work ob- jectives. You can take several steps to defuse the situation when you receive an uncivil email. First, focus on task-related facts and issues in your reply. Second, focus on shared objectives and agreements. Third, express interest in arranging a time to meet in person. If this is not possible, attempt a richer channel of communication such as a phone call or web meeting with video. Defusing the situation with an immediate email is only part of the process in restoring or perhaps even strengthening a working relationship. A follow-up meeting is nearly always essential to renew cooperation on shared work efforts.

You will often need to respond to electronic messages that you feel are unfair or inappropriate. Notice how Nancy escalates the problem in the less-effective re- sponse by writing in an impersonal, defensive, and confrontational manner. By con- trast, notice how she defuses the situation in the more-effective response by avoiding defensiveness, focusing on shared interests, and arranging for a time to meet face- to-face. Your ability to defuse uncivil electronic communications during your career will pay off in many ways: It will help your colleagues and teams stay on task and perform better; it will help you develop a reputation for constructively resolving dif- ferences; and it will lead to more satisfying work experiences. The ability to defuse such situations requires high emotional intelligence, especially in self-awareness and self-management.

Manage Your Emails to Avoid Distractions Constantly checking incoming messages—emails, texts, IMs, and various messages through social networking platforms—or simply hearing message alerts distracts busi- ness professionals from concentrating on the tasks at hand. As you are bombarded with incoming messages, your productivity decreases for two reasons: You are distracted from your immediate tasks and you try to multitask.

Interruptions from digital messages, or e-interruptions, are extremely costly to your performance. One recent study found that the average worker loses 2.1 hours per day due to interruptions. Many of these distractions are email and other incom- ing messages. Many business professionals check their email every five minutes, which amounts to 96 e-interruptions in an eight-hour day. Distractions impact your performance for much longer than the few moments you take to acknowledge and respond to incoming messages. A Microsoft study found that it takes 15 minutes

LO7.3 Describe strategies for managing digital message overload.

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188 Part Three Principles for Business Messages

on average to refocus after an interruption. Furthermore, these disruptions have been shown to reduce attention spans, increase stress, and even reduce creativity. The cost to companies is enormous. Intel estimates that large companies lose about $1 billion per year because of email overload. Not surprisingly, many major compa- nies such as Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Intel have joined the Information Over- load Research Group (iorgforum.org), which is devoted to finding solutions to such problems. 28

Many business professionals erroneously assume they can respond immediately to all incoming messages and focus sufficiently on work tasks. This is simply not the case. A University of Michigan study found that productivity drops by up to 40 percent when people try to do two or more things at once. A variety of research about the brain shows that it is not hardwired to multitask effectively. 29

In most business positions, however, you need to respond to others as soon as pos- sible. This places you in a delicate balancing act; how can you stay responsive to others

FIGURE 7.6

Less-Effective Response to an Angry Email

Impersonal. Leaves out greeting and name.

Defensive/attacking. Focuses on defending rather than understanding Kip’s point of view.

Confrontational. Immediately creates a me- versus-you approach with the phrase “we need to talk.”

Accusatory. Kip lays blame on Nancy in every regard. The repeated use of you- voice increases the accusatory tone.

Re: Issues

Jeffreys, Nancy

To: Kip Yamada

Cc: Barbara Brookshire

We need to talk about this email when I get back in a week after

Thanksgiving. I thought we had a productive conversation but you obviously

were not candid. How can we make any progress if you’re not honest? Also,

please empty your voice mail. I tried reaching you several times only to get

your full voice mail box.

From: Kip Yamada [kipyamada@prestigiohotels.com] Sent: Saturday, November 23 9:54 PM To: Nancy Jeffreys [njeffreys@prestigiohotels.com] Cc: Barbara Brookshire [bbrookshire@prestigiohotels.com]

Subject: Issues

Nancy, our conversation really wasn’t fair. I appreciate you striking up the

conversation but you caught me off guard. I know your goal was good – to

get us working together more effectively. But, in the spirit of compromise, I

was not as forthright as I should have been. You are really hurting our

business because you’re not focusing on our customers. Our guests come

to me all the time and complain about your unfair treatment. Even some of

the employees mention how you are not really listening to our guests when

they make complaints. I think the big issue we need to focus on is customer

service, not whether I have authorization to make refunds. Kip

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Email and Social Media for Business Communication Chapter Seven 189

yet focus enough to achieve peak performance in your work tasks? Consider the fol- lowing guidelines: 30

● Check digital messages just two to four times each day at designated times . Unless your job calls for it (or your boss demands it!), you should never check your mes- sages more than every 45 minutes. Consider taking interruption-free periods during the day exclusively devoted to email. For example, you might schedule 30 minutes to an hour at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day to communicate via email and other online tools.

● Turn off message alerts . Over the course of a day, these alerts can distract you and reduce your focus.

● Use rich channels such as face – to-face and phone conversations to accomplish a task completely . Back-and-forth email chains and other sets of asynchronous digital messages may repeatedly draw attention away from tasks at hand. As appropriate, use rich, synchronous communication to take care of the matter immediately so that distractions do not compound themselves.

● Reply immediately only to urgent messages . When you reply immediately to non- urgent messages, you set a precedent. Others form an expectation that you can be interrupted at any time for any matter.

Cordial and personal. Uses  Kip’s name and extends  warm wishes.  

Validating. Compliments  Kip on his attention to guest  satisfaction. 

Inviting. Asks for Kip’s input  in terms of ideas and people  who should be included in a  decision-making process.  

Nondefensive. Nancy makes it  clear that making “business  sense” is an important part of  the discussion. She does so  without sounding defensive or  intimidating (she is in the  position of a superior).  

Focus on rich communication.  Nancy temporarily defuses the  situation by email but realizes  these issues require rich  communication. She identifies  a meeting as the next step in  the process.  

Meeting to Improve Our Response to Guest Complaints

Jeffreys, Nancy

To: Kip Yamada

Cc: Barbara Brookshire

Hello Kip,

I’m sorry to hear that you did not think our conversation was fair. You’re

right – I didn’t give you any chance ahead of time to gather your thoughts.

I do appreciate your enthusiasm for treating our guests fairly.

When we’re both back in the office, let’s set up a time to discuss how to

manage guest complaints. Would you be willing to come up with your ideas

for managing what you consider the three most common guest complaints?

When we meet, I’d also like to discuss how we track our responses to guest

complaints and whether our responses make business sense.

Would you like to include anyone else in our meeting? Do you think the entire marketing team should participate in this discussion?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nancy

FIGURE 7.7

More-Effective Response to Defuse an Angry Email

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190 Part Three Principles for Business Messages

● Avoid unnecessarily lengthening an email chain . You can shorten email chains by placing statements such as “no reply necessary” in the subject line. You can also shorten email chains by not sending messages such as “got it” or “thanks.” At the same time, make sure you don’t abruptly end an email chain when others would appreciate a reply. For example, some business professionals appreciate short notes of gratitude and confirmation.

● Use automatic messages to help people know when you’re unavailable . Set up au- tomatic messages to let people know when you are out of the office for more than one day.

Many relatively inexpensive, Internet-based communication tools used in business— social networking, blogs, wikis, discussion forums—are driving profound changes in how people connect and collaborate in the workplace. These changes are so profound that workplace culture is moving into a new era: from the Information Age to the Social Age (see Figure 7.8 ). The Social Age is an era in which people engage in net- worked communication, collaborate across boundaries, and solve problems commu- nally. 31 However, even though the communication technologies that have paved the way for the Social Age are changing rapidly (in months and years), workplace culture is relatively slow to change (in years and decades). So, as you read this section, keep in mind that cultural norms and values more significantly influence the impact of social media in the workplace than do its technical capabilities.

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