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Combating seven deadly e-mail sins


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LONDON, England -- E-mail can hurt relationships and slow down business, a survey has warned -- and one psychologist says a lack of e-mail etiquette is to blame.

The survey, commissioned by handheld and "smartphone" maker palmOne, shows that 61 percent of workers say a lack of e-mail responses are delaying business decisions.

Communications expert Dr. Peter Collett said e-mail lacks the established niceties of letter-writing, chatting on the phone or a personal meeting.

The poll of 750 office workers across Europe identified seven deadly sins of e-mail, including blitzing, tactlessness, sloppiness, ignoring e-mails and lying about them. (Seven e-mail sins)

Collett, working with palmOne, developed seven techniques for combating e-mail sins -- including always acknowledging receipt of an e-mail. (Seven solutions)

"Such is the pervasiveness of e-mail that an increasingly high percentage of people, particularly in the business environment, only know us through this medium," says Collett, formerly of Oxford University's experimental psychology department and a psychologist for British television's "Big Brother" series.

"What people forget is that e-mail is no different from face-to-face interactions -- first impressions count. People base their opinions of each other on small pieces of information, and they often hold onto these impressions long afterward.

"If you use sloppy grammar, inappropriate tone or, most importantly, fail to reply, you risk damaging relationships extremely quickly - on many occasions without even realizing you're doing so."

The survey -- conducted with workers in businesses of more than 500 staff in Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy -- also identified cultural differences with regard to e-mail.

According to the survey:

  • The French have a fervent dislike of long and wordy e-mails and consider sloppy writing disrespectful.
  • This means they are likely to have a problem with the Italians, who don't mind spelling mistakes and are often slow to reply.
  • The British, however, lie about receiving the mail in the first place -- then apparently worry when it begins to build up into a backlog.
  • Meanwhile, the Germans value tone most highly and often become confrontational following a misunderstood communication.

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