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Against the CC-Shotgun (and Other Email Etiquette Tips for Sterile Processing Professionals)


I knew I had really stepped in it this time. Early one Monday morning I received a call from an OR manager wanting to "talk" to me about a recent email I had sent. Only thing was, I knew I hadn't sent her any recent emails. But as I waited for the elevator to take me up to her office, it dawned on me what I was about to walk into.

You see, I had sent an email to her boss and a couple of other folks about an issue I needed follow-up on, and I intentionally left her off the chain. I mean, I wasn't trying to hide anything, I just knew she wasn't going to respond to it, so I figured I'd save some time and go directly to the top. I didn't know it at the time, but I had made one of the many simple, yet often unknown mistakes of corporate email etiquette, and I was about to have to face the music and clean up my mess.

I survived that experience and a handful of others during my first couple of years as a CS leader, only to encounter the same email faux pas from those around me on a weekly basis. But because email etiquette matters, I don't want you to have to experience the same "Oops!"-moments I did. So in this post I'm highlighting five bad email ideas you should do your best to steer clear of:

1) The CCing Shotgun

This mistake assumes that everyone needs to know something that really only one person needs to know. A good rule of thumb is to ask others beforehand if they want to be CC'ed regarding particular topics. Keep in mind, if you are emailing about an "issue" or error, taking the shotgun approach to CC'ing can come off as ganging up on a person or department. Because of the nature of email, everyone you CC and anything you write can be interpreted different ways. Take care not to pull the CC-trigger too carelessly.

2) The Lamentation from the Mountain Top

We get it, you're mad, sad, spurned, etc. But that doesn't mean that you should email those feelings out to the entire world, multiple departments, and some people you've never even met. Unlike poetry and song lyrics, email is not a good home for emotive expression. If you feel like you just want to strangle that surgical technician who keeps throwing your custom-made instruments in the trash -- take a step back, push the keyboard aside, and breathe. Go talk to them in person or their boss. But don't take to Outlook and dump your anger into HTML format. If you want to be seen as a professional, handle setbacks... well... professionally. No crying in 12-point font.

3) The Audition for a Novel, aka the Masters' Thesis

Some issues are complicated, I admit. Some things need background to understand. But here's something else you should know: almost everyone HATES long emails. Some people won't even read them, especially if they are not addressed directly to them. If you want your email communication to be read and/or responded to, cut out the audition for the next John Grisham, act like this isn't grad school, and leave out the fluff. Get to the point succinctly, ask if there's any questions, then hit send. Anything else is superfluous.

4) The Third Graders Revenge

We all have typos. In the age of email on "smart" phones, typos are such a forgone conclusion that some folks add an excuse tagline on all their mobile emails apologizing ahead of time for bad grammar and the like. But, for the most part, you should take a concerted effort to make your email communication look like a grown up wrote it -- not a third grader. Take the 1/2 millisecond to capitalize your sentences. Add some punctuation every now and then. Heck, you could go all crazy and split up your thoughts/topics into different paragraphs (earth shattering, I know). If you don't take the time to write well, don't be surprised when others don't take the time to read it.

5) The Professional Poke in the Eye

And finally, back to the story with which I began the post. There are three big things I have learned over the years NOT to do if you don't want to deal with "inbox blowback": don't email anything you wouldn't be willing to say in person, don't leave people off an email if they need to know what's going on, and it's almost never a good idea to send an email to someone AND their boss about something that someone did or didn't do. That's what I'll call a "professional poke in the eye," and it's not becoming of someone in a leadership role. At the other end of that keyboard is a real person who deserves the same respect you would want for yourself. Emails should help people see solutions, not blind them out of spite.


Is this everything you ever needed to know about email? Not even close. But hopefully it will help save you from one of those long walks of email-shame I had to take early on in my SPD career. You don't have to learn the hard way like some of us have. And remember, at the end of the day, each email you send becomes a part of your living, breathing resume -- so make sure you give yourself the best possible chance to be understood and taken seriously as the Sterile Processing professional you want to be.

Now feel free to reply (y')all...

Hank Balch

Beyond Clean © 2020


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