Tommy Tobin

Tommy is a recent graduate of Stanford University, where he earned the Deans’ Award for Academic Accomplishment and led the Stanford Project on Hunger to provide 100,000 meals for his community.

Email for Social Change

Successful changemaking begins with you. Professional and prompt communications are necessary for creating, maintaining, and expanding relationships with your peers, superiors, and stakeholders.

Common Pitfalls

We are faced today with a spectrum of communications. Should you connect with your interlocutor via Twitter, Facebook, or IM? Would you send the same thing in an office memo or a letter?

Email stands at the junction of the formal world of office communication and the informal world of peer-to-peer relationships. As a recruiter notes, this combination all too often leads to confusion and unfortunate consequences when students attempt to communicate professionally.

Think Before You Send

Emails are not a creative writing exercise. Emails are requests: Requests for Action or Requests for Information.

Before you write an email, consider these three key points:

  • Audience: Who am I writing to? How do I know them?
  • Purpose: What am I writing about? What do I want them to do?
  • Style: How will I write this? How can express myself succinctly, clearly, and professionally?

Manage Your Email

Think about what you do when you get an email. You are faced with a choice with four options, the 4D’s as Microsoft and others have written.

You can:

  • Do It: Take the requested action;
  • Defer It: Do it later;
  • Delegate It: Have someone else (hopefully) do it; or
  • Delete It: Trash the email

Your time is valuable, so is that of your recipient. Write your emails to get to DO.

What This Means for You

Write emails as if your boss, your lawyer, your mom, and the press might be reading them. I mistakenly sent 20 emails to my university’s provost thinking it was my colleague’s email address. As Clarity Law Group has blogged repeatedly, email security and email longevity are real issues – email can live forever and is often the source of much litigation as a written record. Also, once you send an email you lose control of where it ends up: your recipient can forward it to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Don’t Flame. Email is a written, permanent record. Do not send emotional email. Use the phone or a face-to-face meeting to convey deeply personal feelings, especially anger.

Watch your tone. According to the Harvard Business Review, tone can be a tricky thing as email is divorced from the non-verbal cues we are used to in face-to-face communications. As David Silverman writes, “Studies have shown that readers add (or invent) emotional bias that is often counter to your intent as the sender.”

Cultivate your brand. You want to maintain a professional brand, as someone your peers and colleagues can trust to do a good job. As such, make sure this professionalism shines through in your emails: use correct grammar, capitalization, and spelling and don’t use too many (or any) emoticons or informal acronyms.

Bottom Line

Emailing well will make us all more effective agents of change, on campus and beyond. Effective, efficient electronic communication will deliver the action and information you need.