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如何应对老板晦涩难懂的邮件

更新时间:2014-3-26 14:27:47 来源:华尔街日报中文网 作者:佚名

Email Enigma: When The Boss's Reply Seems Cryptic
如何应对老板晦涩难懂的邮件

Many employees labor over emails seeking guidance from the boss, only to receive a cryptic reply such as 'Great!' or 'Sounds good' -- or no answer at all. The result: Confusion and frustration.

The potential for email misfires between bosses and subordinates is mounting, as the volume of email grows and more people read it on the fly on mobile devices. Sometimes the boss is too rushed to read. Employees fuel the problems by sending poorly written emails. Deeper issues can arise if bosses' and employees' communication styles clash.

Jill Campen was baffled recently when her boss Marty Finkle fired back a one-word reply to her carefully thought-out email asking for his approval on a client-training presentation she had prepared: 'Done!' Ms. Campen, a consultant at Scotwork North America in Parsippany, N.J., puzzled over the message for a half-hour, then decided she was too upset to resolve the matter by email. She called Mr. Finkle and asked, 'What is going on with you? 'Done?' What does that mean?'

Mr. Finkle, chief executive officer of Scotwork North America, a negotiating-skills training and consulting company, was dismayed. He told Ms. Campen that he trusts her to do a good job and went on to explain that he had been rushing to answer a client's email and empty his in-box of the 100 to 150 emails he receives daily. When her message popped up, his first thought was, 'We've already talked about this. I could get rid of this really quickly.' By the end of the conversation, the two were laughing.

The number of emails sent or received daily by the typical corporate employee is expected to rise to 136 by 2017 from 121 this year, based on projections released last November by the Radicati Group, a Palo Alto, Calif., market-research firm. Managers, who receive the most, are 'flooded by email,' says Nancy Ancowitz, a New York business communications coach. Many a manager multitasks to get through it all, 'emailing from a mobile device at a stoplight, typing with his thumbs,' Ms. Ancowitz says.

Some bosses don't answer at all. Nearly one-third of 700 employees surveyed by researchers at Florida State University said their bosses had given them 'the silent treatment' in the preceding year, according to the 2006 study.

Managers sometimes use silence to pressure employees to come up with a solution on their own, says Joyce K. Reynolds, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., business coach. 'Bosses have their own agendas. They don't always have the answers. Sometimes they don't want to give them,' Ms. Reynolds says.

In other cases, bosses scroll over employees' messages because they have vague or misleading subject lines, says Jack Appleman, a corporate writing instructor in Monroe, N.Y. If an employee uses the same subject line on an email string long after the topic has changed, the boss's response is likely to be, 'I thought this was already done,' says Mr. Appleman, author of '10 Steps to Successful Business Writing.' Subject lines should say exactly what is needed, such as, 'Report: Approval needed by 5 p.m.,' he says.

Some emailers annoy bosses with a long windup, such as 'If it's not too much trouble, I was just wondering . . .,' says Barbara Pachter, a Cherry Hill, N.J., communications consultant and trainer. They're usually trying to be polite but come off as passive, Ms. Pachter says. Reading an email aloud before sending it is a good way to ensure the tone is neither wishy-washy nor too harsh.

Other employees ramble on in 'one huge paragraph' of 30 lines or more, like 'a sheet of black ice,' and then bury their question at the end, Ms. Pachter says.

Emails covering multiple subjects can be confusing, says Mike Consol, a Livermore, Calif., writing and corporate-communication coach; sticking to one issue is usually best. Some matters may be too complicated to handle on email, such as personnel issues or developing new policies.

Even well-written emails can elicit frustrating responses if bosses and employees have different communication styles. Bill Littman was annoyed last year when a thoughtful email that he had written about a client's suggestions drew a one-word response from his boss Bryan Janeczko: 'Yes.' Mr. Littman says the email 'seemed dismissive.' He called Mr. Janeczko and asked, 'Did you see what I wrote?'

Mr. Janeczko, founder and chief executive of Wicked Start Consulting, New York, says he thought Mr. Littman's email was well-done and valuable. He had been 'running a million miles a minute' when he read it. He trusts Mr. Littman, a partner and director of operations for the firm, and he assumed his short response would convey approval, he says. With coaching from Ms. Ancowitz, Mr. Janeczko realized that as an extrovert, his straightforward, fast-paced communication style at times clashed with Mr. Littman's more measured approach typical of introverts. Mr. Janeczko began giving Mr. Littman more thoughtful feedback on email, and the two make time to talk more often.

Understanding your communication style -- and those of your co-workers -- can help avert miscues. At an engineering firm she headed several years ago, Allison Tabor realized she sometimes came across as curt in emails to certain employees who preferred warmer or more detailed communication. 'I've had employees say, 'Ouch, that stings,'' says Ms. Tabor, now founder and owner of Coppia Communications, a San Ramon, Calif., coaching and business consulting firm. She began tailoring her emails to suit individual employees' style.

Other bosses and employees compromise to build good email chemistry. Cheryl Cofield, director of culture, diversity and inclusion at Atlanta's Georgia Institute of Technology, writes long, carefully crafted emails to her boss, Pearl Alexander. When the two first worked together three years ago, Ms. Alexander, senior director for people strategies, felt anxious if she didn't have time to write a thoughtful answer right away.

In time, Ms. Cofield realized that her boss trusted her and she didn't have to include so many details. She began putting questions at the beginning of emails, rather than the end. For her part, Ms. Alexander began dropping Ms. Cofield a short acknowledgment when her emails arrived, saying she would reply soon. She also set aside more time for answering email, talking by phone and meeting face-to-face. She says, 'I stepped up my game.'

为了寻求老板的指导性意见,许多员工都会在电子邮件的措辞上绞尽脑汁,但是他们却经常收到老板晦涩难懂的回复,比如:“太好了!”或“听起来不错”,有时甚至收不到任何回复。由此产生的结果是:迷茫和挫败感。

随着电子邮件数量的增多以及越来越多的人开始使用移动设备匆匆浏览电子邮件,老板和下属之间因电子邮件产生误解的可能性也在不断增加。老板们有些时候实在是太忙了,以至于不能仔细地阅读电子邮件。而员工们拙劣的电子邮件写作技巧更是火上浇油。如果老板和员工的沟通风格有冲突,那么还可能将引发更严重的问题。

吉尔·坎彭(Jill Campen)是苏格兰工坊北美公司(Scotwork North America)的顾问,最近有一次,坎彭感到困惑不解,因为对于她字斟句酌、请求老板批准她为客户培训所准备的发言的电子邮件,她的老板马蒂·芬克尔(Marty Finkle)只给出了一个词的回复:“完成!”坎彭对着这个回复苦思冥想了半个小时,她觉得通过电子邮件解决这个问题太让她心烦了。她拿起了电话,询问芬克尔:“你是怎么了?‘完成’?这个词是什么意思?”

苏格兰工坊北美公司是新泽西州帕西波尼(Parsippany)一家提供谈判技巧培训和咨询服务的公司,芬克尔是这家公司的首席执行长。芬克尔对这通电话颇为不解。他告诉坎彭,他相信她的工作能力,并继续解释道,他当时正急着回复一位客户的电子邮件,并清空他收件箱中每天多达100封至150封的邮件。当收到坎彭的电子邮件时,他的第一反应就是:“我们之前已经讨论过这件事情了。我可以用最快速的方式解决这封邮件。”在谈话的尾声,两个人都笑了。

去年11月,加利福利亚州帕洛阿尔托(Palo Alto)的市场调查公司Radicati集团发布了一份预期数据,称普通公司员工平均每天收发的电子邮件数量将于2017年达到136封,高于今年的平均每天121封。纽约的商务沟通培训师南希·安科维茨(Nancy Ancowitz)称,收到电子邮件数量最多的经理们简直是“被电子邮件的大潮淹没了”。安科维茨表示,许多经理都不得不同时进行多项任务来应付工作,他们“在等红灯的时候还得在移动设备上用大拇指打字并发送邮件”。

有些老板根本就不回复电子邮件。在2006年佛罗里达州立大学(Florida State University)研究人员开展的一项研究中,700名接受调查的员工中,有近三分之一的人表示,在过去的一年中,他们的老板曾经对他们“不予理睬”过。

佛罗里达州劳德代尔堡(Fort Lauderdale)的商业培训师乔伊斯·K.雷诺兹(Joyce K. Reynolds)称,经理们有些时候会用沉默来敦促员工自己找到问题的解决之道。她说:“老板们有自己的日程安排。他们也并不总是知道问题的答案。有些时候,老板们根本就不想给出答案。”

杰克·阿普尔曼(Jack Appleman)是纽约州门罗县(Monroe)的一名企业写作培训师,也是《十步走向成功的商务写作》(10 Steps to Successful Business Writing)一书的作者。阿普尔曼表示,在有些情况下,由于员工们所发电子邮件的主题含糊不清或具有误导性,老板们只是草草浏览了他们的电子邮件。如果邮件的主题早已发生了变化,而某位员工仍然在沿用之前一长串往来邮件的标题,那么老板的反应很可能就是,“我认为这个问题已经解决了”。阿普尔曼称,邮件主题应该提出明晰的要求,比如:“报告:需要在下午五点前得到批复”。

新泽西州樱桃山(Cherry Hill)的芭芭拉·帕赫特(Barbara Pachter)是一名沟通顾问和培训师,她说,有些发件人写的电子邮件结尾拖拉,这令老板们烦恼不已,比如:“如果并不是太麻烦的话,我只是想……”。帕赫特称,通常,发件人都想尽力客气些,但这却显得他们很不积极。在发送电子邮件前大声地读一遍是一个可以确保语气既不软弱无力又不显得颐指气使的好方法。

帕赫特说,还有一些员工会在一个30行或者更长的“超级段落”中夸夸其谈,整封电子邮件就像是“一片黑乎乎的冰面”,直到最后才提出他们的问题。

加利福利亚州利弗莫尔(Livermore)的写作和公司沟通培训师麦克·孔索尔(Mike Consol)称,涵盖多项主题的电子邮件可能会让人感到困惑,通常说来一封邮件只针对一个问题是最好的;还有些问题可能太过复杂了,无法通过电子邮件来处理,比如人事或制定新策略的问题。

如果老板和员工的沟通风格不尽相同,那么即使写得很好的电子邮件也可能带来令人失望的结果。去年,比尔·利特曼(Bill Littman)用尽心思写成的一封有关一位客户建议的电子邮件只得了老板布莱恩·简恩克斯科(Bryan Janeczko)一个字的回复:“好”。利特曼对此感到不满。利特曼说,这封电子邮件“似乎被忽视了”。他致电给简恩克斯科问道:“你看了我写的内容了吗?”

简恩克斯科是纽约怪异起源咨询公司(Wicked Start Consulting)的创始人和首席执行长,他说他认为利特曼的电子邮件写得很好并且很有价值。他读这封邮件的时候正“忙得不可开交”。他说,利特曼作为公司的合伙人和运营总监深得他的信任,并且他认为自己简短的回复能够传达出赞成的含义。在安科维茨的指导下,简恩克斯科意识到作为一个性格外向的人,他直截了当、风风火火的沟通方式在某些时候会与内向性格的利特曼那种更谨慎的沟通方式产生冲突。简恩克斯科开始在电子邮件中给予利特曼更加深思熟虑的回复,并且双方增加了面谈的机会。

了解自己的沟通风格——以及同事们的沟通风格——有助于防止误解的产生。艾莉森·泰伯(Allison Tabor)曾经在一家工程类企业担任过多年主管,她那时就意识到,在电子邮件往来中,自己有些时候会被某些更喜欢温和、缜密沟通方式的员工视作唐突无礼的人。泰伯说:“曾经有员工说过,‘哎呦,这话真伤人。’”现在泰伯是加利福利亚州 拉蒙(San Ramon)培训及商业咨询公司Coppia Communications的创始人及老板。她已经开始根据不同员工的风格来调整自己书写每封电子邮件的语气。

还有一些老板和员工想出了折衷方案,以建立良好的电邮关系。谢丽尔·科菲尔德(Cheryl Cofield)是亚特兰大佐治亚理工学院(Georgia Institute of Technology)的文化、多元化及包容性总监。她总是喜欢给她的老板珀尔·亚历山大(Pearl Alexander)发送长篇大论、行文周密的邮件。三年前,当这两位女士开始共事时,担任人事策略高级总监的亚历山大总是对于自己没有时间马上写出考虑细致的回复邮件感到焦虑。

一段时间以后,科菲尔德意识到她的老板信任她,自己也无需汇报过多的细节。她开始在电子邮件的开篇而不是结尾就提出问题。亚历山大则开始在收到科菲尔德的邮件后发送一个简短的回复,说自己会尽快回复。亚历山大还留出了更多用以回复电子邮件、打电话和面谈的时间。亚历山大说:“我比以前更精于此道了。”

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