Many of us, whether we are in administrative positions or not, spend a good portion of every day in front of the computer, the iPad, or the Smartphone submerged in our email. While we would argue that email has created a new level of efficiency and an ability to easily communicate in both our personal and professional lives, it certainly also comes with a cost.
We can all think back to the pre-email days when communication was often through a face to face meeting, a casual conversation, a phone call, or a more formal written document. We would often think for a little bit about what we wanted to say, compose it in a hand-written note, or a typed or dictated message. We had the opportunity to review our thoughts once more when the document was actually produced before we put our own signature on the document. The document then took some time to arrive to its intended audience. In those days, I had always maintained a folder in my desk for items that had been written, that needed to mature “for a few days” before they were sent. Many of these communications, after a few days of thoughtful review, remained in the file forever, unsent. These days, we don’t have the same luxury with email.
We often find ourselves fiercely typing at email, instantly communicating, and then sometimes regretting what we sent. It is all too easy to send an email message to many, many recipients. It is all too easy to take out our anger or frustration of the moment at the keyboard.
We also spend time communicating things through email “because we can”, rather than because it is important. How often are we carbon copied in an email on something that really doesn’t pertain to us? How often do we banter back and forth unnecessarily with others?
For this week’s blog, I’d like to have us all consider the following:
- Everyone should have time each day where the email program is not open, where the iPad or the Smartphone is not constantly refreshed or looked at. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we all had a two or three hour block per day where we simply didn’t look at, read, or respond to email? Those who really needed us would be able to find us regardless.
- Let’s commit to the following set of rules for efficient, effective, and courteous use of email. (These were given to me by folks in other leadership positions in the hospital, and I present them with my own modifications.)
Before you click “send”:
- Be sure there is a greeting and closing, the message should always be polite. (Follow-up communications may be less formal.)
- Write using proper grammar, punctuation and spelling and make sure your message is clear.
- Eliminate needless words and sentences—keep the message brief and to the point, this is respectful to the time of others.
- DO NOT USE ALL CAPITALS AS THIS IS CONSIDERED SHOUTING IN AN E-MAIL.
- Be sure that the message is appropriate for an e-mail—avoid counseling or reprimanding by e-mail, gossip or highly personal subject matter.
- Ensure that it is not aggressive, venting, or could be perceived as offensive.
- Be sure it’s sent only to those who need to know, and avoid blind copying.
- Do not forward others’ emails without permission if there is sensitive information or the sender intended the message to be private.
- Don’t “reply to all” when a reply to only the sender is more appropriate.
- Be sure it is professional and not a personal attack.
- Be sure that you do not react to an offensive e-mail in an e-mail, ask to speak or meet. Responding in kind only escalates the problem and causes more damage.
- Don’t say something in email that you would not be willing to say in a face to face conversation.
- Be careful about patient specific information in email….remember HIPAA .
In a busy hospital and clinical world, where we all ought to be focused on patient care, effective family communication, good inter-personal relationships, interdisciplinary support, wouldn’t it be nice if we were a little less distracted by email? Perhaps we should all recommit to more attention to actual job performance, and in-person communication, and reserve email communication for, important and critical communication.