Professional Email Etiquette 101: Read This Before You Hit Send
Email, a medium designed to expedite communication, can do just the opposite when not handled with care. In addition to bogging down your inbox, a single thoughtless email has the potential to ruin someone’s day, change someone’s attitude, and cause unnecessary friction or anxiety. By improving your own email writing and putting email policies in place, you can inspire others to communicate more clearly, minimize wasting time in the workplace, avoid miscommunications, and deliver better service to your customers. Sound good? Read the 13 actionable tips below!
- Be judicious with forwarding. Some people forward emails without evaluating whether they’re truly useful or of interest to the recipient, further adding to inbox overwhelm. Before you forward an email to someone, ask yourself if it’s really necessary, impactful, or something they most likely haven’t seen.
- Don’t “reply all” and ask others to do the same. When you receive a group email, only respond to the person who sent it unless your message includes essential information for all the recipients. Implement an email policy at your office so employees know to avoid this practice.
- Don’t be “that guy.” Unless you’re adding something new to the conversation, don’t chime in simply to hear yourself “talk.” While implementing a “reply all” policy (see #2) will help cut down on this issue, there will always be people who do this and set off a whole chain of useful email. This just adds to email clutter, so resist the urge to respond if you’re only agreeing with the obvious. Also, avoid sending joke emails and request that your employees do the same. Yes, we can all use a laugh throughout the workday, but sending jokes to the whole office only adds to email overwhelm and will probably offend someone.
- Get to the point! People simply do not have the time or patience to weed through long emails, so try to keep yours as brief as possible. A good rule of thumb for length is to try and keep your emails to three sentences or less. If you’re struggling to convey your point within that length restriction, you might want to call the person, speak to them about it in person, or give some more thought to what you’re really trying to say.
- Number questions. If you’re asking more than one question, you should always number them and instruct your employees to do the same. Otherwise, the client or employee might miss something and only respond to whatever question first catches their eye. As a result, you now have to write another email to ask them for the missing information.
- Use compelling subject lines. When we open our inboxes, we skim subject lines in order to prioritize what to read immediately and what to read later. An articulate subject line with key phrases like “FYI” or “Action Required” saves everyone time.
- Start with action steps. Most people begin their emails with a summary and put the action steps at the end. By reversing this and placing the action steps first, you draw attention to the most critical information and help prevent them from getting lost in the shuffle.
- Include deadlines. If you require a response by a certain time, make sure you let the recipient know that. Otherwise, end with “no rush on this” or “no action/response necessary.”
- Let them know you’ll respond later. If you receive a pressing email that you simply don’t have time to deal with, send a quick response telling the person when you will respond by. This will curtail anxiety on both ends and prevent inbox clutter with additional nagging emails. It also helps preserve cordiality; an explanation NOW is more effective than an apology later. Bonus: Save even more time by creating a template for this type of email so all you’ll need to do is fill in the date of when you’ll respond by!
- Don’t ask the recipient for acknowledgement. When people receive an email, responding to it automatically becomes another item on their to-do list. If you don’t require a response, let the recipient know by saying so (“For your information/reference only,” “no response required”). If it’s a routine item, give them an easy out by saying, “If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume (a) is correct and I’ll do (b).
- Don’t email angry! Be mindful of the fact that your ability to effectively convey your intended tone via email is limited, so avoid sending contentious emails or anything that could be interpreted as such. Writing can be therapeutic and may help you clearly identify the problem or get to the bottom of why you’re upset, so feel feel free to write that angry email – just don’t hit send! When delivering criticism, it’s always best to do it in person or at least over the phone. If you must provide criticism via email, be respectful and specific about the issues at hand. Firing off an angry email without thinking can cost you an employee.
- Be human. When someone has experienced a loss or trauma, send them a quick email to let them know you’re thinking of them.
- Send an occasional compliment. Once in a while, send an email that doesn’t include a demand or request, just praise. A simple “job well done” can make someone’s day.
The way people read and digest information has changed, so we all need to adjust our communication styles accordingly. Resolve to become the Miss. (or Mr.) Manners of email and start implementing these tips today – people will appreciate it!