I send and receive lots of emails every week, working in public relations means that it is a daily activity, in fact most professional service based work means that emails are central to communication. Whether you are working in an office as a career professional or you are building your own business, emails are important and email etiquette is crucial. Social media is great but emails are the most conventional way of maintaining a standard flow of prompt communication outside of telephone calls. I, for one, am not a fan of social media direct messages which should be emails unless the messages are via LinkedIn. Having to send emails frequently and obviously understanding the value of building strong relationships, has taught me the value of email etiquette. We have all been caught out at least once, either sending an email which has been misconstrued/reflects our tense reaction or receiving an email that is abrupt or curt. I understand that we can have tough days, I also understand that things aren’t always rosy behind the screen. I tend not to match poor manners with a bad response as I choose to uphold a professional (and honest) response but that does not negate the fact that it can be very annoying.
Here are a few of my own basic email etiquette rules to use even when you’re busy:
Think about the tone of your message – in a digital age, tone matters. I have seen social media misunderstandings being exacerbated into full on online disagreements because of what could be deemed as a misunderstanding based on tone. We are all wired differently so you really have to take the time to consider how your message will be received based on the intention that you are sending it. Just spend a few moments to read the email you’re about to send back to yourself. Would you be happy with the tone of it if it were being sent to you? If yes send it. If the answer is no just take a moment to fix it. Are you intentionally using the email to express your emotions? If so really take the time to think about why? I.e. Do you want an apology? Do you feel disrespected? If that is the case your feelings might be valid but remember that not everyone has the same attitude as you do and you should think about whether your email will actually lead to a resolution or if it will cause even more problems. Remember that emails are very different from telephone calls or face to face meetings, this should be common sense but I really need people to understand. With vocal or physical communication we can sense tone through certain obvious cues such as voice pattern changes and body language, but when we read things in print our minds might react differently to words because we have no other cues but our own preconceptions. So take the time to consider this when sending an email or a response that could lead to a misunderstanding.
Greetings matter – How you address people really matters in emails. Know when it is the right context to use “Hi”, “Hello” and “Dear” – most times the latter 2 greetings are absolutely fine in a professional setting (most prefer “Dear” in very formal settings. Use “Hi” only if the person you are sending the message to is a good contact and you email each other frequently. Know and understand your boundaries whenever you send an email to anyone. You should also ensure that you do everything in your power to make sure you get the spelling of a person’s name right. Once in a while the keyboard critters can mess up your flow and cause a typo or an auto-correct mistake but even if that is the case make sure you apologise as soon as you spot it (if you do). But just make an effort to greet people with respect and courtesy in an email. That is the very least that you can do when it comes to email etiquette.
Don’t fan the flames – If you’re reading this it is very likely that you’re human unless the robots have taken over the planet. Being human means that you have your own set of emotions and you are going through things, you might be busy, stressed, tired, unwell or any of the things can put pressure on us. If you receive an email that annoys you or if you’re having a bad day just do your very best not to fan the flames and cause you more unnecessary stress. Emails leave a digital footprint so if things escalate in the inbox there will always be a paper trail. Think about how you want to resolve an issue and most importantly stay focused on the intention of your response. At the end of the day your email is being sent with a purpose, so really take the time to focus on the purpose and don’t get caught up in pettiness. If you need to take the time before responding to an email which you perceive as being rude/impolite, take a few moments to breath and even ask someone to read the email before you really need to send a response. At the end of the day try your best not to take things personally, if you need to clarify anything just pick up the phone but don’t allow negativity to override your progress.
I hope this piece helps you and please share your own email etiquette tips and experiences below.