This topic of how to effectively use email communications arose in a discussion with an executive the other day. He was caught in the middle of a situation because he had not strategically used to the tools available to him in business email communications. It got me thinking that if he could be more effective, then others could too.
The first step is assess your business environment and how communication is done. In his case, he was accustomed to talking to people vs. boiling down things into writing in a earlier organization. I am strong proponent of this age-old method when it works – however, let’s get real – in today’s business environment, some of that does not work especially in the rough and tumble cultures. The lesson here is to be observant about what other people are doing and adopt changes to be successful – if this is a place you want to thrive in.
Take a look at the email communications that you have received over the last few weeks. Is there a trend? When do people copy (cc) others? When do they leave them off and you think that they probably should have been copied? Note – this may be a clue to heavy use of blind copying (bcc). Knowing how others use business communications will help you establish your parameters for using the email communication tools.
I can hear your push back…you don’t want to have to reduce all your conversations in writing. I am not suggestion that you will have to do that, however, if you are getting burned or pushed into a corner, then you are at a clear disadvantage.
Consider what conversations need to be documented. Let people know as you leave the meeting that you will be following up with an email to confirm what the plan is and who will be responsible for taking the actions discussed. Without a paper trail, the water gets awful murky when something blows up.
Here are some general guidelines for addressing emails, use of copy (cc) and blind copy (bcc) especially in a business environment where people document their actions (sometimes affectionately called covering their ass). Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for using these tools, however, some organizations take it to an excess.
Who to Address an Email Communication To
Always address the email to the person or persons who you believe need to take ACTION on your email. When you address emails to people who do not need to take action, they will discount future emails and may not react quickly because they are not sure if it is an actionable request.
When to Copy (cc) an Email
When you copy a person in the email you are sending the message – I want you to be informed about the request or conversation that is being shared with the people you have addressed the email to. Using copy (cc) does not ask someone to take action.
Do not copy your boss or project lead on every email unless they have asked you to do so. Why? This sends a signal to the people you are communicating with that you have little power or authority in the organization.
When to Blind Copy (bcc) an Email
This one gets tricky and will depend on the organization’s culture and the person you are blind copying. There are some people who want to know everything so blind copying is used heavily.
There are some situations where you should definitely blind copy someone:
- Your boss has asked you specifically to do something and you want to let them know you are working the plan without using them as a crutch to get people to do something.
- You believe an initiative or action may go haywire because of an experience or the person you are working with is unreliable. Keeping your boss apprised will help you if something blows up.
If you are unsure about what level of email communication your boss desires, ask them. Bring up a few different situations and see what their response is and respond accordingly.
Be as clear in your email communication as you can by using the structure available to you and don’t get caught in a political tug a war.