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E-mail presents challenges in conveying tone and can cause problems if misunderstood. Here are 10 tips to improve your practice's e-mail communications.
Who do you and your colleagues communicate with via e-mail at your medical practice? At a minimum, it is likely you communicate with patients, vendors, and each other. Is there anyone that you exclusively (or almost exclusively) communicate with via e-mail?
E-mail is a wonderful tool, but unlike phone or face-to-face communication, the medium poses challenges when it comes to conveying the tone you are trying to imply. E-mail can also be damaging, especially when an e-mail is misunderstood. Here are 10 tips to help keep the perception of your e-mails on point.
1. Keep e-mails brief and to the point. Make your most important point first, and then provide supporting details if necessary. Paragraphs should be short and easy to read.
2. Watch your tone. Without the nonverbal cues of face-to-face conversation, your tone can get lost in the translation of an e-mail. The more to the point you can be the better. Also using words like "please" and "thank you" can go a long way.
3. Don't assume the tone or intent of an e-mail you receive. In the same respect that you should watch your tone, never assume the intent or tone of an e-mail you receive either. It is always best to ask specifically the intent of the e-mail, as we all know what happens when you assume.
4. Don't reply when irritated or angry. When sending and receiving e-mail, the best solution when you feel offended is simply not to be offended (pretty good general life advice too). You are likely getting worked up over something that is simply an error in the translation of the tone. If you find yourself reading an e-mail and becoming irritated, step away for a minute and calm down before replying.
5. One e-mail per subject. Even when you are e-mailing patients, it is best to send one e-mail per subject so that it is easily referenced again by the subject line. If you find yourself sending three or more e-mails, consider sending one e-mail with multiple attachments rather than including pages of text in the body of a single e-mail.
6. Use zip files when sending attachments. Also make sure that the receiving person will be able to open the file. PDF is often the best format for documents; most systems can open it.
7. Always use "if –then" options. Using "if-then" options cuts down on the back and forth of e-mailing, especially for appointment times. For example:
"Can you bring Mary in for a follow-up appointment at 3 p.m. on Wednesday? If not then please give me three additional days and time frames you could bring her in (For example, Wednesday before 10 a.m. or Friday after 1 p.m.)."
8. Avoid typing in all small caps or all upper caps. This can make your e-mail look lazy (small caps) or like you are shouting (all upper caps). This is one of the most basic rules. However, with so many people communicating from their mobile devices, it often falls by the wayside.
9. Limit text formatting. Just because your e-mail service or program offers text formatting options doesn't mean you should use them. Avoid underlining unless it is a link. Various fonts and colors can make the e-mail difficult to read, and can often times seem unprofessional.
10. Always sign off with care. Use words such as "Thanks," "Sincerely," "Best regards," for closing e-mails. This is polite, respectful, and conveys a nice tone.
Be sure to use care and common sense when using e-mail as a tool to communicate with your colleagues, staff, and patients.
What is your biggest e-mail etiquette pet peeve? Tell me in the comments section below.