Habit of the month August: E-mail etiquette

By johannatime On August 1, 2015 Under The Habit of the Month

Are you sometimes annoyed by an e-mail? Or even offended? Do you agree that there are too many e-mails in your inbox, that they are too long, and often unclear? I am a true advocate for good manners and mutual respect amongst coworkers and professionals, so let’s make this world a better place: You can only change yourself,  so here’s the habit of the month August:

E – M A I L  E T I Q U E T T E

E-mail as a means to communicate

Before there was e-mail, there was mail. It was a lot of work to type a letter, print it, fold it into an envelope and mail it to the addressee, so it was only done when that was necessary. E-mail was invented to speed up this process, make it more reliable, and to save costs on paper, envelopes and stamps. Great.

I don’t know about you, but before there was e-mail, I wrote letters to my pen palls and my grandmother. In 1996 I sent my first e-mail. It was addressed at a fellow student and it was not important. We sent each other e-mails because we could. And that is the problem.

When is an e-mail appropriate?

I think you can point them out in your inbox right now: the messages that should not have been sent via e-mail, that should have been communicated otherwise, or not at all. Just consider the following, as a guideline:

  • E-mail is great for notifying someone about an update, where information is shared and can be found, for sending (confidential) information specifically to the addressee, and for specific questions.
  • Don’t use e-mail for sorting out a personal issue: arrange a meeting or make a call instead.
  • When something is urgent, a phone call is better than an e-mail.
  • For chit chat, use an instant messenger.

Often, sending an e-mail is the easy way to go, because you don’t need to have a direct confrontation with someone and you can always say that you have notified them, and prove it. It is this confrontation, however, that makes a difference: if your issue is not important enough for a confrontation with the recipient(s), reconcider sending it altogether. If it is, confront them politely and bring your message across face to face, or on the phone. Example? When you need someone to do you a favour, or when you have bad news, show them what it is worth to you by contacting them personally. You can always back up your message with an e-mail.

Dos and don’ts for good e-mail manners

When e-mailing still is your communication of choice, here are some ideas to make your communication as clear and pleasant as possible:

  • Keep your e-mails short and concise.
  • Be clear and polite in your communication, even if it means that you need to add a few words. Avoid words written in caps, it looks like you are shouting. Sending from your iPad or phone is not an excuse to be rude.
  • Make sound use of the subject line: ‘for your information’ when no action is required; ‘action required’ when there is, and ‘regarding your request’ when you respond to a request. If you want to read a bit more: IQTELL published a nice post about subject lines.
  • Write separate e-mails for separate requests. It makes processing a lot easier.
  • Don’t use cc’s and bcc’s unless it was specifically requested, or significantly practical.
  • Do not reply to all recipients. Just don’t.

Be considerate. Every day. With every e-mail you send. And please share your own best practices in the comments below:

Johanna Jansen

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