Proper Email Etiquette Matters

Email is a wonderful business tool—quick, convenient, and efficient. In fact, it has become such a part of our everyday work lives that many of us probably don’t give a second thought to our email habits … and, yes, some of us have some bad email habits! Remember the seriousness of learning how to write a letter in school? Making sure you had the appropriate format for the appropriate recipient and circumstance? The greeting, body, and closing had to be just right! Now, we just open our email account, type in the first few letters of an address or two (I love auto-populate), and start writing.

Of course, I am not complaining—email is a tool that makes communication much easier. However, the email messages we send are a reflection of ourselves and our company, so it’s good to occasionally check our email habits. Forbes made a great list of the “Top Ten Email Habits That Send the Wrong Message.” With that list in mind, here is my list of bad email habits that might send the wrong message:

No Greeting

Just like in person, on the phone, or in a letter, you should open your initial email to someone with the appropriate greeting. The great thing about email is that there isn’t necessarily a formal template to follow, and although you must keep your correspondence professional, it has become acceptable for emails to have somewhat of a more relaxed tone than you might have in a formal letter. But always be polite. If the first email I open from you just says “What time is the meeting today?” without any type of “Hey, Hi, or Hello,” it comes across as unprofessional and, yes, quite rude.

The Wrong Tone

We all know to proofread our emails for spelling and grammar before hitting “Send,” and we still may even be guilty of the occasional typo when sending out an email in a hurry. But have you ever looked at your email to check the tone of your message? Be sure to ask yourself: Could it be more professional? Is it harsh sounding? Is it clear what I am asking? Will the person reading it be eager to respond? Sometimes we don’t realize how our words might come across to coworkers or clients when we are busy or under stress. Emails that are sent out during stressful projects or when the team is under a tight deadline often lead to emotionally charged messages that escalate into misunderstandings, resentment, and frustration among those in the email chain. Would it be better to respond later? Or maybe respond in person? Take a step back before responding, and before you hit “Send” be sure to read your email a few times (or maybe even read it to someone else) to make sure the message you are sending is the one you intended.

Misuse of the Subject Line

The “subject line” is just that—a brief line about the subject of each email.

Here is what it’s not:

  • The actual email:Do not put your whole email message in the subject line and leave the body of the email empty. Unless you’re sending this email to your BFF, just don’t do it.
  • A command:Phrases like “READ ME” and “URGENT” send the message that you think your email is more important than everyone else’s. Just create a clear and concise subject advising on the topic of the email, such as “Last Minute Change to Policy—Update Needed,” and let the recipient decide on its urgency.
  • The same for every email:Chances are you will discuss more than one issue with a colleague or supervisor over the course of a day. Remember to begin a new email chain with the appropriate subject line every time a new issue is discussed. An afternoon email conversation with your boss should not have the subject line “Re: Vacation Request” (from an email you sent that morning) if the topic is now “Tomorrow’s Meeting.”

No Contact Information

Have you ever received an email from someone who asks you to give them a call but they don’t provide a number and their signature doesn’t include any contact information? Please, please, please go into your email settings (right after you finish reading this post, of course) and create a reply signature that includes at the very least the phone numbers where you can be contacted!

Overuse of CC and Reply All

We all love the convenience of the “CC” and “Reply All” options in email. But what about when you are CC’d on an email discussion that is obviously a matter between only a few specific recipients, yet you, other colleagues, and sometimes supervisors or even clients are copied throughout the whole conversation? Sometimes these messages are sent in error, but sometimes you have a feeling the sender is trying to make someone look bad or prove a point to someone (which says more about them … but I digress), which leaves you with an inbox full of unnecessary emails and the question “Why did I get this?” Here are some reminders about using these functions:

  • Copy only the people who are necessary in the initial email. It is OK to add others later if necessary. They are smart; they will catch up if they need to.
  • If you receive an email that was sent to several people within your organization, ask yourself who really needs to see your response before hitting “Reply All.”
  • If a client has asked you a question and has copied others at their organization, you should reply to all, so that all the members of their team will get the same answer at the same time.
  • Don’t start CC’ing supervisors in email conversations to prove a point. Most supervisors actually hate it. Work it out with your colleagues. If it can’t be worked out, then agree together to bring your supervisor in on a completely new email summarizing your previous discussion.

The Lack of Human Connection

Everything doesn’t have to be emailed! If you and your email recipient are in the same office, think about stopping by their office if you have a quick question or need to chat about something. Some topics are better explained or understood when discussed in person. Sometimes it’s nice to personally connect with those who share a common business goal. Also, it’s nice to just get away from the computer for a few minutes. The next time you get ready to send an email to someone who is only a few doors down from you, consider a visit (or even a phone call) instead.

Are you guilty of any of these email habits? Are there any other bad email habits that we should be watching out for?

Written by Tara Madison, Manager of HR and Operations at Vector Talent Resources.