The Importance of Email Etiquette

Around 2 million emails are sent every second by 1.2 billion email users.  There are an estimated 516 million business email boxes worldwide.  This is a potential for miscommunication. 

Email is good for information and confirmation, however, it isn’t good for emotion or persuasion.  It’s difficult to convey enthusiasm, empathy, or sincerity via email. One doesn’t get a sense of the way the words are conveyed, and therefore the message can be misinterpreted.  Here are some more tips on email etiquette.    

When sending:

  • Email is lies between an informal telephone call and a formal letter, but an email can be easily kept as a permanent record. Avoid slang, sarcasm, careless writing, thoughtless comments, too many dots or exclamation marks
  • Consider the recipient. Who really needs to know? Is it ‘nice to know’ or ‘essential to their job to know’? Consider using group names very carefully – it may save you time but does everyone on the group list really need that message?
  • Talk to the recipient instead. Think of how long it takes to ‘talk’ the message compared to having to write it out
  • Break the email ‘tennis’ – it’s far quicker to pick up the phone than reply with an email
  • Avoid email as an excuse not to talk to somebody. Barriers in communicating with people can be broken down by hearing your voice or perhaps seeing you, to build better rapport
  • Never email in anger. Calm down first, or consider an alternative method
  • Indicate the subject of the email, and the purpose, in the subject header, to help the recipient e.g. ‘Leadership Training: Joining Instructions below’.
  • Include ‘pleasantries’ at the start e.g. ‘Hope you’re having a good week’ or perhaps a ‘Thanks for doing that last project so quick’ before launching into the reason for emailing
  • Emailing bad news can be seen as ‘the coward’s way out’ because the person’s reaction is avoided. Also, you can’t guarantee when they’ll read the bad news
  • Re-read the message before sending, putting yourself in the recipient’s shoes – what is the tone like? What unintended messages could the recipient see? Am I being succinct enough?
  • Avoid writing in capital letters (it can be seen as the equivalent of shouting, and it makes it more difficult to read) and be careful about emboldening words
  • If all emails are classified as urgent, people may gradually stop treating them as such

When reading:

  • Deal with email at set times of the day. 2/3 times per day as a guide. The tendency is to open email as it arrives. If it was that urgent, the sender would have picked up the phone. Turn off the automatic ‘incoming email alert’ facility
  • Remove unwanted e-mails regularly. One user had 350 e-mails in his inbox after 3 days holiday! Always question why you keep an electronic copy
  • Set regular times e.g. last day of the month, to review and delete your e-mails
  • Set up folders for recipients. Important people such as the boss, the boss’s boss, and key customers could go into folders that you check more frequently
  • If you feel negative emotion after reading a message, give the sender the benefit of the doubt and assume there has been a misunderstanding. Have you read the message carefully? Are you quite sure you’ve understood?
  • If it’s about a complicated topic, or it’s a request for ideas or opinions, consider replying by phone, or meet up with the person
  • Set up an automated ‘out of office reply’, giving an alternative person’s name who may be able to help
  • Send joke emails to your home inbox for reading later