Spam, email chain letters, obnoxious or off-color jokes … these are just a few things that annoy business professionals when it comes to daily email. While it’s not likely that you’re sending any of these, what if your emails are just as annoying?
Unfortunately, many people unknowingly irritate clients and business partners with poor email etiquette and bad habits. Even worse, the offenders tarnish their reputations in the process, unaware that their emails reflect their company brand and personal credibility.
To use this communication tool effectively, avoid the following five email pet peeves.
1. Having sensitive conversations via email.
Sensitive and emotionally charged conversations have no place in email. If you need to end a partnership, express disappointment or apologize, do it face to face (most preferred) or over the phone. When a topic has significant emotion behind it, the recipient naturally escalates that emotion when reading the email. Why? Because we tend to look for the worst in a message rather than the best. Your innocent question, “Why did you call Mr. Smith?” is read with an accusatory tone, as if you had asked, “Why on earth did you of all people call Mr. Smith and bother him?!”
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that many people will write things in an email that they would never say in person. They view email as a “safe” way to resolve conflict without having to face the other person. So they may snap back at someone in a sarcastic way or slam someone professionally or personally. Bottom line: if your message has any type of intense emotion behind it, don’t send the email.
2. Using “Reply All” instead of “Reply.”
Just because you were one of many recipients on a message does not mean everyone needs to hear your reply. For example, a leader may send a group message to an entire organization asking who will be present at the meeting. The only person who needs to see your response is the one who initiated the message, not the entire group. If the group contains 100 people and each one does a “Reply All” saying, “I’ll be there,” you’ll have a very cluttered inbox and 100 very annoyed people.
Therefore, consider who needs to see the message and use the “Reply All” button judiciously. Also remember that with a “Reply All,” everyone—even those who were in the BCC line—will see your comments, so you never really know who is getting your message.
3. Using poor grammar and spelling.
A typo every now and then is not a big deal in email. However, consistently poor grammar and frequent misspellings are obnoxious. Email is a form of written communication, so respect the written word. Furthermore, when conducting business, everything you do, say and write is a reflection of your professionalism.
When people read your messages, they naturally make a judgment about you based on your writing. If your writing is poor, everything else about you comes into question. After all, if you don’t care enough about your writing to follow basic protocol, what else don’t you care about? Your product? Your commitment? The reader? The online written word stays out there forever; once an email message leaves your outbox, it is impossible to retrieve. Make sure your lasting impressions are good ones—even when you email.
4. Emailing complicated information.
If you have to give someone technical, detailed or complicated information, do it over the phone and send an email as a backup rather than relying solely on the email communication. Email is best suited for short messages that don’t require a lengthy response. If your email is more than a couple of paragraphs, pick up the phone and talk to the recipient. Use email to send follow-up documentation or a recap of your verbal instructions, but don’t expect people to read or act upon a lengthy or complicated message.
Additionally, if you are the recipient of a detailed message and need time to work on the reply, send back a short acknowledgment message that states, “I received your message and am working on the needed items.” And if the reply requires real discussion, then pick up the phone and talk about it. Don’t rely on email for every topic.
5. Writing bad subject lines or not using subject lines.
Unless you’re doing email marketing and relying on your messages to sell people, use straightforward subject lines that reflect the actual theme of the message. Leave the cute and clever wording to the marketers. For day-to-day business purposes, plain and direct work best. So rather than have a subject line that reads, “Want to pick your brain,” write, “Need your input on the new product launch.”
Many people use their email program as a filing system, and they rely on the subject lines to find key information later. If your subject lines are vague (as in “A message from Tom Smith” or “Info you requested”), or if you leave subject lines completely blank, people won’t know what the message was about when they search their files later. Always write clear, specific subject lines, as in “Dates for Singapore conference” or “Files for Smith project.” Should the email’s subject change as the conversation ensues, then change the subject line to reflect the new theme.
Email has certainly come a long way in the past decade. Viewed as a novelty in the 1990s, it has now become one of the preferred methods of business communication. But just because something is commonplace doesn’t mean you can become lazy with it. Always use email properly and for the purposes and subjects it was intended. By avoiding these five common email transgressions, you’ll gain productivity rewards even as you enhance your professional reputation.
JEAN KELLEY is president and founder
of Jean Kelley Leadership Consulting, helping
corporate leaders all over the world to achieve their
highest potential. She is the author of Dear Jean:
What They Don’t Teach You at the Water Cooler and
Get a Job; Keep a Job Handbook.