Although email has enjoyed increasing popularity over the past fifteen years, few rules have been publicized to the vast majority of users. It’s taken a kind of a blind-leading-the-blind route. For most office correspondence, email is quick, efficient and direct. Yet, overuse of email as a replacement for verbal interactions can be perilous to an organization.
Here are some rules of thumb, summarizing best practices commonly recommended by most businesses.
1. Formality vs. informality
Beginning an email thread with a short greeting such as “Hi Mike. How are you doing?” is definitely polite and proper. Once the communication trail has begun, formal greetings can be omitted.
2. Response Time
All emails requesting a response should ideally be answered by the end of the next working day. If you are unable to respond, a short note acknowledging receipt and a time frame for a response are in order.
3. Subject Line
Using a descriptive subject line is very useful for many reasons. First, emails without a subject line may get directed to spam. Also, it helps the recipient know what the contents of the email will be. Lastly, it makes retrieval of a specific email at a later date much easier.
- Take advantage of the Subject Line by using descriptive and relevant headings.
4. Keep It Simple
Emails are best used to communicate technical, practical or logistical details. They should ask or answer any of the following questions: Who, what, where, when, should, could, can, would, do/does and is. For instance, an email thread may begin: “Who is responsible for this client?” or “Could you please pick up the report on the way to the meeting?” Alternatively, emails may be statements: “The report you sent me was missing one section.”
- Emails should be brief and to the point.
- Insert line spaces between sentences or short paragraphs.
- Use email to set up a time to discuss any matter other than quick details.
- If more than a couple of emails are needed to address or resolve an issue, email is not the right tool. Don’t clog someone’s inbox with multiple emails. Have a direct face to face or phone conversation instead. If you like, you can then send one final email that summarizes the issue, decisions made and actions agreed upon, and that also thanks the person.
5. Keep it neutral or positive
Since email can be forwarded to virtually anyone, write messages as if they are available for public viewing. Negative emails that fall into the wrong inbox may implicate you to the point of losing your trust, good standing or even your job. Lacking tone, negative remarks often sound much worse to the recipient than the sender intended.
- Include ONLY positive or neutral statements about people, things or ideas.
- Completely avoid negative, critical or sarcastic messages.
- Edit your email until all traces of negativity are removed. If you can’t, save it in draft form and revisit it at a later time.
6. Touchy Subjects
If you are looking for a way to avoid a sensitive conversation such as “Can I have a raise/bonus?” or “I really wanted the promotion you gave to a colleague,” email is not the place. Although much easier to say from the comfort of your computer, these kinds of messages are better said more directly.
- Arrange a time to talk verbally about any sensitive matter.
7. Cc, Bcc and Reply All
Seemingly innocuous, these buttons may appear to create efficiencies in spreading information, yet they can be hazardous as well. Ask yourself, if you would be the recipient of this email, would you want others to see it? If yes, who?
- Use Reply All sparingly. Consider who really needs to see your response, and use Reply All only if you really need your message to be seen by each person who received the original message. Never use Reply All if you have been the Bcc recipient of an email.
- Only Cc the person/s for whom that email has relevance.
- Bcc is useful when sending mass information to a group of confidential recipients, such as clients or patients.
- For regular interoffice correspondence, let the recipient know who has seen the contents of the email by using the Cc option.
- A Cc does not mean you should reply. A response is not required or expected when you receive a Cc of a business email. You are simply receiving a copy as an FYI or a courtesy. The person who is expected to reply is the one addressed in To:.
8. Send emails with content
Avoid sending messages that say only “Thank you” or “OK.” Co-workers understand that you appreciate their work, but if you still want to thank them, include more content, or say thanks in advance when you email a request.
In this day and age, almost everyone has made minor or major email blunders. With these pointers, some mistakes can be avoided. Email is a powerful form of office communication. It is a useful tool. Use it wisely.
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