Most organizations believe email is one of their biggest productivity snags even though email is probably the most important office communication tool available. The technology has eliminated many of our personal boundaries. Some of us have even allowed email to drive our actions when in reality, our communications should be driven by our goals and the tasks required to accomplish them. What we have forgotten is the fact that email is a communication tool.
The real purpose behind communication is the exchange of information in a way that both parties involved clearly understand the shared intelligence. If the email messages you send aren’t clear, then the recipients of those messages will not be clear either, and they will not be able to interpret what you want or what they need to do as a response to the email.
Think about the number of times you have received an email message that made you wonder what the sending person meant — or why you even got the message in the first place. Now on the opposite end of the spectrum, think about the times you’ve sent an email that returned to you with a bunch of questions because you didn’t take the time to write it clearly. This is where productive communication breaks down with office email. This is the snag.
Productive communication can be greatly improved by implementing a simple mental checklist that you can run through before you hit the “send” button for each and every email that you write. This simple set of rules will grade your email (so to speak) and let you know whether it has passed or failed the test. The process is designed to help you think about what it is you are trying to communicate before sending the email off, ensuring that the recipient will understand what you are striving to communicate. In addition, by writing more effective email messages you will greatly reduce the quantity of emails you receive each day.
The process is called the PASS process of effective email communication. The PASS process will assist you in writing clearly defined emails that produce effective action on the side of the recipients.
The four questions the PASS process asks are:
- P for Purpose – What is the purpose of your email?
- A for Action – What action needs to result from your email? Does it have a due date?
- S for Support – What supporting documentation needs to be attached to your communication?
- S for Summary – Have you successfully summarized your email message in the subject line?
Only after successfully evaluating each of these questions should you click the infamous “send” button. Let’s look at them a little closer.
P – What is the purpose of your email?
First, does your email correlate with a meaningful objective or task? If it does not, you may need to ask yourself whether the email needs sending at all. After concluding that the message is vital to something of importance, you need to read your email message and ensure that it’s purpose is clearly communicated through the message body. Try to summarize what you’re striving to accomplish through the communication in the first paragraph. That way, the reader is able to read the remaining content of your email from the right context.
A – What action is required as a result of your email?
In many of our communications, we clearly state the purpose of our email but we do not make clear what our expectations are of the email’s recipient. By clearly stating what we need accomplished, we have a much better chance of it getting done.
Here is a simple list of the 3 most common email actions:
- Task: The recipient has to complete an actual physical task (for example, order report copies or call Jack Doe).
- Respond: The recipient needs only to respond to the email with the information that you requested. )You did clearly state the information that you needed, right?)
- Read: The recipient needs only to read the email for their benefit.
You eliminate any confusion regarding your expectations from the recipient by clearly stating the action you need them to accomplish. Think about your communication and clearly communicate the action you want the recipient to perform, and don’t forget to include any due dates necessary for the actions requested. Remember to be specific.
S – What supporting documentation is required by your communication?
You need to ensure that you have identified and attached any and all supportive documentation required by your communications purpose or needed by the recipient to perform any of the actions you have requested. You cannot expect somebody to read the monthly sales report if you have not attached the monthly sales report to the email message.
S – Have you summarized you email in the subject line?
This step is critical to improving your email communication standards — and a great trick is to write your subject line after composing the body of your email message, not before the body.
Did you know that some email spam filters actually catch the terms “Attention:” or “Important:” and flag them as spam. By clearly summarizing your message in the subject line, you will greatly improve your ability to communicate with your recipients. When a person is sifting through the dredges of their inbox, they tend to bypass messages that don’t appear to be important.
For example, let’s say you have a message in your inbox with, “Here’s that thing we were talking about” as a subject line. This message is going to blend into every other non-important message in the inbox. However, if the message’s subject read “Requested Monthly Sales Report for August” you would probably be more apt to open it because you need that sales report.
Your email message is ready to send only after you have asked — and it has passed — these four simple questions. It may have taken you a little more time to prepare the email, but there are many benefits that far outweigh the little bit of extra time and effort you invested.
There will be a decreased necessity to continue sending messages back and forth since you’ve ensured the clarity of your message’s purpose. Your expectations of the recipients will more likely be accomplished due to clarifying the actions required in the message. You will be sure the recipient has everything necessary to get the job done. And you can be confident that the true meaning of your message will be received within its subject line. The PASS process of effective email messaging will allow you to once again use email as a productive and effective communication method.
(Image courtesy of Biscarotte under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 generic license.)