SERIES: Email Diseases: How they affect your life and how you can avoid them (Issue 3: Skimmers and non-readers)

This is less a documentation of an email disease than an irritation and pet peeve; so, less of an illness to cure than a bad rash… yeah, that works as a metaphor.

In today’s world of technology dependence, telecommuting, and distance education, personal interaction and direct communication has taken a back seat to texting, instant messages, self-directed learning platforms, and email. We spend less time in face to face communication with coworkers and staff than we do typing on our keyboards and putting our thoughts out over the ether in a variety of characters and digits.

And here begins my tale of woe. Well, maybe not so much my woe as my ire? All I know is that it is frustrating and irritating to the Nth degree.

I understand how it is. As the recipient of a metric crap-ton of email (seriously, I was out for one day and came back to literally 743 unread emails in my inbox… not including spam). We spend an inordinate amount of time sifting though and reading electronic communications. The modern age has given rise to a number of scams and advertisement driven electronic communication that drowns us all in useless drivel and time-wasting blathering. Most of us have spam filters that provide some defense and decrease the sheer weight of worthless email and potential security breaches and identity theft risks. However, the legitimate communications can often equal or outnumber all the phishing and natural male enhancement ads on the planet.

It’s a time sucker. I know it. You know it. The down side? It is often the only option for communication in what has become a modern, virtual workplace. The days of paper trails and memos are not so much gone as changed. We communicate by phone, conference calls, video conferences, WebEx, text message, and instant message. The old fashioned paper memos served a purpose. The were communication devices that also left a somewhat permanent reference that could be kept for future. This was especially important for policy changes, new procedures, and announcements.

Translate that to the modern day workplace. Verbal communication, instant messages, and texts are not a suitable format for mass communication or information to be used as reference. This is where email is especially important. Email is used when there is a need for “electronic paper trail.” In other words, email provides a similar version of communication that paper memorandum once did.

So, what is the problem? There are certain types of people in the workplace. I’ll call them the “skimmers” or “non-readers.” I admit there is a lot of unimportant fluff that can get passed around the office networks, but the bottom line is that this is, for most corporations the line of communication through which the important information flows. When staff do not read their email, it means that they may fail to follow new procedures or miss important updates. To often the excuse for mistakes is “I didn’t see that,” or “I must have missed it.”

Wow. That’s a heck of an excuse. The whole reason that someone put the effort in to convey the information in a more stable and durable format was to allow future reference. As someone who tries to keep email to a pertinent minimum, it really does sting to hear the phrases above. Aside from failure to follow instructions, it also is dismissive of the efforts of the author and of authority when that person is a management or other leadership role.

Skimming might actually be worse than just ignoring. While deleting or ignoring important email communications can result in missed information, skimming can result in misinterpretation and translation of details that could result in potentially devastating mistakes or the exact opposite of desired outcomes.

Skimmers and non-readers tell their employers and management teams (by their behavior) that they don’t really care about the job or anything that the leadership has to say. I’m not saying that every supervisor on the planet is a modern day messiah imparting wisdom of the ages, but usually these people are trying to give information that will help everyone do and, more importantly, keep their jobs. So, before you hit the delete button on the next inbox influx or skim through a pile of electronic communication, keep in mind that your decision could result in important information being missing from your knowledge base. That missing information could impact your success or lack thereof.

For the email authors out there, to avoid the risk of skimming and ignoring, keep emails short and concise. Use bullet points to outline important information without excessive verbiage. Organize information into logical patterns. Keep on point, and avoid tangents. Try to stick to one topic or subject in an email to allow for easy sorting and categorizing. Avoid mailing lists with too broad a recipient focus. Broadcast emails should be limited, in number and length.

So, senders, keep your emails targeted and recipients specific. Recipients, read your emails. Chances are they were sent to you for a reason.

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