Program Success Starts with People: The Dos and Don'ts of Email Communication

This is one of my favorite topics – where the written word and business can meet.

We have all seen well-written emails, but there are numerous going out every day that are either confusing, unnecessary and/or problematic.

The biggest issue with email is that everything is memorialized. That is why it is important to follow the cardinal rule, if you wouldn’t want your communication referred back to, or in a court of law in the future, think twice before you hit that “send” button.

During this blog, I will address examples of emails that would fall under the category of well written, and go on to address those that simply do not. 

Email to the Rescue

Email is great for conveying time-sensitive information, even up to a few minutes prior to a meeting or deadline. Everyone is plugged in these days, so you can pretty much ensure colleagues will get the requisite information on time. A quick follow-up text can also help augment your late-breaking email, if it is appropriate.

Email is also very appropriate for follow-up and formal documentation purposes. For example, when a meeting is completed and you want to restate the key discussion points and establish action points moving forward, this is an excellent way to document, memorialize and distribute information.

Additionally, if you want to formalize your stance on a position – generally after it has been discussed – email is a good way to convey “this is what I/we think, and this is how I/we plan to move forward.” 

Think Before You Type 

Spelling & Grammar

Let’s look at grammar and spelling first. I work with a lot of extremely smart, eloquent folks for whom writing is not their forte. If this is the case for you, I recommend you keep your emails brief and do most of your communication verbally. 

Confusing Emails

There is a tangential, related-type of basic written communication issue. If I read an email and it is so poorly written that I don’t know whether someone is in favor of or against something in just a few sentences, this signals a problem.

Far more concerning than grammar and spelling related issues, is when someone fires off emails that are not well constructed and simply confusing. When this happens time and again, it is a surefire sign this individual probably needs to stay off the keyboard and pick up the phone. This issue is even further compounded when the person writing these is in a position of authority. It can leave colleagues and team members thoroughly confused and mislead.

Another type of confusing email can occur when someone leaves off key information and then is unreachable for clarification. While the intent may be positive and leveraged for documentation purposes, the message may direct folks to take action that is simply not intended. For example, I recently saw an email that seemed to have canceled a contract, only to find out that the sender had not provided complete information and that this was not the intent.

Emails That Should be Discussions

I have seen senior leaders send overly-detailed emails and try to work through major business negotiations over email. This is a “no-no.”  

If it is more than a few short paragraphs and sentences, don’t send it. Most of us are beleaguered by too many emails. If it can’t be summarized to fit in one screen via email and the reader has to scroll down, it is probably too long. The rule of thumb is to make your message as succinct as possible.

Emails That Provoke Emotion

If the recipient is fired up after reading an email, the sender is often not communicating properly. Generally speaking, anything that will incite great emotion should be conducted via discussion, not over email. I have seen many rude and inappropriate emails sent by folks who simply are not having an open and honest dialogue. Instead they are playing games, or trying to drive their agenda.

The key take-away here is that words are powerful. In the absence of information can come misinformation and disinformation. This can have many positive and negative implications so it is important for everyone to be aware of how they use the powerful medium of email.

Want more? Check out Michelle's entire series below...


  • Step One: Understanding the Importance of Staffing
  • Step Two: Identifying the Need
  • Step Three: Crafting the Position Description
  • Step Four: The Interview Process
  • Step Five: Hiring & Follow-up
  • Step Six: Onboarding

Staff Development

  • Key One: Training Needs
  • Key Two: Mentoring
  • Key Three: Individual Feedback
  • Key Four: Group Feedback
  • Key Five: Positive Working Environment
  • Key Six: Modeling Integrity

Additional PM resources:

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