Lynn Gaertner-Johnston is a writing instructor who has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills. She’s also the author of the Better Writing at Work monthly newsletter. We spoke to her about the importance of great business writing and bad email behaviors that admins should avoid.
APT: What is the most important reason for admins to craft great business emails?
Gaertner-Johnston: By crafting great business emails, administrative professionals stand out as effective, well-organized communicators. Getting noticed that way leads to increased responsibilities and opportunities. Also, administrative professionals who write efficient emails save time and money for their employers.
APT: You mention on your website that one reason you teach business writing is to quash bad writing habits that linger in the cubicles of today’s organizations. What’s your best advice for changing those habits?
Gaertner-Johnston: Deciding to write more effectively is the first step. Then the key is to find ways to support a change in behavior. For example, if a person makes a grammatical error repeatedly, having a sign above one’s desk can work wonders. One who says “me and my manager” can use a sign with “my manager and I” to get good results.
APT: Can you share a few bad email behaviors that should always be avoided?
Gaertner-Johnston: Do not put anything in an email that you would be embarrassed to see on TV, in the newspaper, or on everyone’s computer. Recognize that your emails may be forwarded. Any negative comments or innuendos about others revealed in your emails can kill relationships instantly.
Also, avoid sending a confidential email to a printer unless you are within a few steps of it and can grab the page as the machine rolls it out. Otherwise, that confidential message can become painfully common knowledge.
Similarly, do not copy someone’s boss on a negative message. Cc-ing someone’s manager to get action will wreck your relationship with that someone. Instead, email or talk with the person from whom you need action and explain why it is important. If that step does not work, you may have to inform the individual that you need to bring in the supervisor.
Finally, do not communicate when you don’t have the time or the inclination to do it well. Many people look back in embarrassment on their hastily written and sent messages.