Perhaps you are interested in starting a “second act” career or new business venture and would like to ensure your email etiquette is up to par. Or, maybe you have recently gone back or plan to return to the workforce and want to be certain you’re up to date on what constitutes good, appropriate email etiquette. Then again, you may simply be interested in a few recommendations to further your already excellent communication acumen.
While the ways businesses connect with employees, colleagues, and customers has evolved and continues to change (does anyone else remember the telex machine?), one thing’s for sure: Decorum will never become obsolete. Read on to learn a few strategies for boosting email etiquette in your internal and external emails.
1. In general, keep messages short and to the point while being mindful they don’t come across as impolite or demanding. Unnecessarily long correspondence can be tedious to read and viewed as inconsiderate by some. So, it’s important to strike the right balance.
A client once told me if emails were states, mine would be New York—quick, polished, and professional. He added, “And while they’re short, your emails are always pleasant. I never get the feeling you’re being dismissive or trying to hurry me along.” It’s one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received.
There are a few short-and-sweet things you can do to demonstrate your gracious demeanor in an email. For instance, consider addressing recipients you know by first name and expressing appreciation with a simple “thanks,” if you’re asking for help or expressing your gratitude for assistance received.
If the correspondence is going to a person with whom you have a rapport, you might sign off with the first initial of your name for a more congenial closing and/or wish the recipient a great night/good day, etc.
While using emojis can be viewed as unprofessional by some, numerous people include them in their messages. Whether you opt to use one or not, say to soften a tough subject or express appreciation, is a personal choice. If you do, choose emojis carefully, understanding their inclusion could increase the risk of a miscommunication.
2. On the whole, stick to your regular business hours when emailing colleagues and/or clients. Messages sent early in morning, after hours, or on weekends—when it’s not typical in your line of work—could erroneously suggest an urgent matter and the requirement of a quick response, when neither may be the intent. If you send email during off hours or on Saturdays and Sundays and they don’t require immediate attention, let recipients know, so they don’t feel compelled to get back to you right away.
3. Always assume positive intentions. Many years ago, I received an email from a former coworker regarding an initiative to get more bang for our job-posting bucks, which had been launched six weeks’ prior. It was a short message, which I appreciated. But it came across as judgmental. It went something like, “Reviewed your data; results not as anticipated. Scary.” I took “scary” to mean that he thought I’d botched it somehow. But is that what he meant? There was no way to know.
After I gave the details a good once-over, I was relieved to see he was mistaken and had received inaccurate data. In fact, the outcome was more than we had hoped for. When I shared this information with him, he was delighted to know the initiative had been successful after all.
When you assume someone is pointing fingers and casting blame, it can cause feelings of anxiety, suspicion, anger, and/or defensiveness. Though the word “scary” didn’t add to the communication I received, I should have supposed he was informing me of his findings, instead of making an assumption.
4. Respond to requests for information and or services in a timely matter. Overall, strive to get back to clients and colleagues within 24 hours at minimum. In addition, take it a step further by sending a response to let the sender know you’ll get back to him/her within the day, this afternoon, etc. If you’ll be out of the office or otherwise inaccessible for a fixed period of time, set your automatic out-of-office reply message and let those trying to connect with you know if there’s someone else they can contact in your absence. (If you do so, be sure to include the alternate contact person’s phone number and email address in your message.)
5. Refrain from playing no-win games of email tennis. An email message that’s complex and contains incomplete info is more difficult to comprehend and answer than typical communications. You lob answers to the sender for clarification only to receive another ambiguous email with more questions and requests for info. This back-and-forth exchange is unproductive and rarely yields a resolution.
If you are unable to get to the crux of the matter after replying to a second message, pick up the phone to resolve it. If the sender is situated in your office or building, consider walking over to his or her desk to discuss it in person. Typically, a call or face-to-face meeting proves more timely and successful in arriving at a solution.