There are so many ways to screw up email and even when you don’t actually screw it up, email etiquette lies in wait to mess with you.
A big faux pas, for instance, is when someone sends an email to a dozen people and includes all the addresses in the “To:” line. If you do that you are sharing what may be confidential contact information with other people without their permission.
This can tick people off and make you very unpopular. The way to overcome this is to BCC (blind carbon copy) everyone and only enter your own email address in the “To:” line.
Unfortunately, that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things that can get you into trouble when you email someone. Here are 10 tips to help make you a better email correspondent.
- Check before you send anything to ensure you haven’t accidentally forwarded past emails with information you would rather not have the recipient see. Lurking in that email thread could be confidential information, or perhaps private views about people or projects that you’d rather not share. We’ve all done this, and it can be extremely embarrassing.
- Never send an email when you are angry, sit on it overnight before re-reading and sending it, or maybe not send it all. In fact, don’t create angry emails in your browser at all, write them first in Word and then when you are sure it’s what you want to say you can cut and paste into your email browser. That way you won’t accidentally send it by mistake and regret the storm you’ve unleashed.
- Never email when a quick phone call would be more efficient. Too often we end up writing long emails covering all our bases when a 30-second phone call would be more effective. The same goes with texts; long texts should be short phone calls. Keep all emails as short as possible.
- Which leads to a longer note about short emails. People generally fail to read entire messages, so it’s best to limit emails to one, maybe two points if you actually want someone to answer your questions.
- If someone sends you an email and CC’s other people, remember to “reply all” otherwise you will wonder why, later, that so-and-so is not up to speed with the conversation. Unless of course you intend to cut them out; in that case it might be better to start a new thread rather than reply only to the sender. The reason? You might say something you don’t want anyone but the sender to read, but then the sender in a subsequent post re-includes the original people and your “private” message is now embedded in the thread and open to all. Always be aware of which of the following you are using; reply, reply all, forward, CC and BCC.
- If you are attaching documents to a message, consider whether you should PDF that Word document. This is important, for instance, if you don’t want someone editing that contract you sent over. The other thing to beware is sending very large files via normal email as they can run afoul of your recipients’ email limitations. There are plenty of services that can help you send large files, just Google something like, “how do I send a large file?”
- In business correspondence; avoid emoticons, jokes, or forwarding something outrageous that just might be a hoax.
- Be crystal clear in your message. Nothing is more annoying to people than when they have asked several questions and you answer, “yes.” Ensure you adequately reply to each question.
- Take a few seconds to consider what you write in the subject line. People often lose emails amongst the dozens they receive every day; ensure they can locate yours easily.
- Receiving email can be another major source of stress. Spam and phishing emails are a source of frustration and danger. One tip to ensure you don’t click on anything untoward is to check the email link behind the name. You’ll be surprised how often that email purportedly from your bank is actually from a Gmail or Hotmail account.
Email is a fact of life in business, but it’s also a major time waster and something that can cause confusion, misunderstanding, and worse. The problem is, we often read and write emails too quickly and without sufficient thought.
Take a step back, take a little more time with this important communication resource and give it the respect it deserves. You will be glad you did.