Have you noticed there is a new wave of email language and behavior developing around us?
When email first became the norm, there were rules to keep email etiquette in the workplace. But the rules have relaxed to say the least.
Ok, it’s not new news. It’s been this way for as long as there have been emails. But the combination of social media users and email slang is a rife as it’s ever been.
With people using email to communicate even the most simple of messages, there can be some issues with ‘lost in translation’ messages.
Compound this with the fact that plenty of people think it’s ok to treat email communication like they are sending an SMS to a friend, or posting an update on social media, and you have some pretty unprofessional communication.
The overuse of email doesn’t look like letting up anytime soon, so how about we apply some email etiquette in the workplace? This can be done by following a few simple rules as I see it. These are:
- Don’t CC in Anyone Who Doesn’t Need to Be
- Only Expect the ‘to’ Recipients to Respond
- Email Content Must Be Relevant to the ‘to’ Recipients
- Don’t Send More than Two Emails on the Same Discussion
- Offer Alternative Methods of Communication
- Don’t Use Email to Discipline or Reprimand People
- Use a Clear and Concise Subject Line
- Never Ignore Emails
- Always Proofread before Sending Emails
- Add the Email Address Last
Don’t CC in Anyone Who Doesn’t Need to Be
It’s tempting to add a load of names to the CC or BCC fields on an email, I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of this before. But we get enough emails without having to go through loads of mails that we are loosely linked to, or not required to read.
If you are dealing with a difficult customer or a complaint, avoid copying in a myriad of managers and senior personnel. One manager to monitor the communication is fine, you can always circulate at a later date.
Only Expect the ‘to’ Recipients to Respond
If you are sending a mail and CC’ing in several people, make sure the contents are relevant to the recipients in the ‘To’ field. It’s become common practice for recipients in the CC field to ignore, or skim over mails.
When using multiple recipients in the ‘To’ field address the mail appropriately. Either name them in the first line of the mail, or if there are several names use a polite grouping.
Email Content Must Be Relevant to the ‘to’ Recipients
In line with the last point, if you’re naming someone as the recipient of a mail make sure it’s relevant to them. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have read an email, then at the end wondered if it was even intended for me.
When writing an email set out with an objective, an actionable point, and address the recipient personally. With the overwhelming amount of spam flying around giving a personal touch to an email will make all the difference.
Don’t Send More than Two Emails on the Same Discussion
If you set yourself the limit of sending two emails you will be surprised how easy it becomes to keep to it. Ever seen those long strings of emails that seem to go on forever? That’s a thing of the past, be concise, offer a solution, and keep it to two emails.
Obviously questions can go back and forth, and you will occasionally need more than two email communications. But regarding the same topic and question, it should be wrapped up in two, or you’re just wasting time.
Offer Alternative Methods of Communication
Emails are not the most personal of communication. If you are emailing people internally, offer to meet with them. If you’re mailing externally, offer to make a phone call. This personal touch still goes a long way.
This is especially important if you have mailed twice on the same subject, as per the last point. Instead of bouncing more mails, pick up the phone and have a chat.
Don’t Use Email to Discipline or Reprimand People
Regardless of your position, and the position of the person you are emailing. Never send an email reprimanding them, airing your disagreements, or letting off steam.
If you are typing an email while emotional or angry for any reason don’t send it. Take a few minutes to cool-off, then revisit the email. I can guarantee you will feel differently about it. Before writing something that will forever be on the server, consider the consequences.
Use a Clear and Concise Subject Line
Don’t write “Open”, “Read this”, or anything else that is trying to lead to suspense, or gain someone’s attention. Use the subject line as an opportunity to give clear, and concise instructions about the mail.
Don’t be afraid to tweak an email header if you are forwarding on a message and think of a more appropriate subject line.
Never Ignore Emails
Ignoring spam, if you have been sent an email it’s polite etiquette to reply to it. If you need a few days to write a full response, drop a courtesy email letting the person know. Even if an email is sent to you by accident, let the sender know.
Ignoring an email is rude, and will leave the other person hanging. We have all second guessed if we used the correct address, or if the email has gone to the correct person. If you’re short for time make it quick, only takes a minute to send a quick reply.
Always Proofread before Sending Emails
If you make grammatical or spelling errors on an email there is a good chance the recipient will point them out. If not to you, then to whoever is in earshot of them as they read the mail. It’s just the way it is.
Spellchecker will only pick up most of the obvious typos, you need to proofread mails as well to make sure they read well. It only takes a few minutes, and will save you some embarrassment. So always proofread.
Add the Email Address Last
Again, most read this will have been guilty of this one too. Ever sent an email before you were ready? It’s easy to do, we all do a certain amount of tasks on autopilot, and sending emails is one of them.
To save any embarrassment add the ‘To’ email last thing. Write the mail, proofread it, make any other changes or attachments, then add the address and click send.
So there you have it. Some solid, mostly obvious, yet valuable tips to for professional email etiquette in the workplace.
Never forget that emails are permanent electronic documents, hitting delete doesn’t remove the mail entirely.
So think next time before you hit send.
Phil lives in England, UK, and has around 20 years experience as a professional life, career and executive coach. He started this blog to help others find and define their own self development journey. Blogging about a wide range of topics to help facilitate a better future.