You’ve got mail: Ten tips for nailing email etiquette

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Lean communication is appreciated more and more, because we are all under pressure and there isn’t time to beat around the bush. We need to get to the point and be able to deliver our messages concisely.

Take a look at this email charter. Have you seen it before? Perhaps you’ve seen variants on this theme. Do you agree?  Let’s go through what it recommends.

1. Respect recipients’ time

Everyone is so busy, and most have intensive periods when they’re hurrying to finish a task or wrestling with a complication and don’t want to be dragged down by long-winded emails or be pushed to answer pesky correspondence at that moment. 

Emails provide an ideal opportunity to respect another person’s time, because they can deal with it when they have time.

We shouldn’t conflate the quickness of email delivery with the need to answer right away. Same for texts (unless it’s an emergency). Maybe a better rule of thumb is to remember people can be preoccupied — in meetings, detained elsewhere — and to give them a chance to respond.

2. Short or slow is not rude

Some short emails are very ‘short’ in tone — perhaps unintentionally — but a ‘yep’ or ‘no time to talk’ answer can leave one feeling ruffled nonetheless.  This is where emojis can be helpful in tempering the terseness (though some believe they are unprofessional). 

Slowness likewise can appear rude — it sends a message the recipient is not a priority for the sender. Maybe, but maybe not. 

I think it’s better (and politer) to respond quickly and say that you’re busy for now, but will get back to the recipient as soon as possible. 

3. Celebrate clarity

Make subject lines relevant! Being clear and succinct is commendable and essential.

But there’s no reason why emails can’t be similar to traditional letters, where people explored and shared thoughts and ideas. Clarity is necessary in high-pressure environments, or when there’s decisions to be made, which preclude waffle.

Remember, though, clarity is often preceded by some degree of mental one-person wrestling — and if they aren’t quite there yet, it’s not your right to judge them. Celebrate constructiveness instead.

4. Quash open-ended questions

This one is odd.  The charter states: “It is asking a lot to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by ‘thoughts?'”

Says who?

Doesn’t this rather depend on the context and the nature of the relationship between the sender and the receiver?

5. Slash surplus cc’s

Some people use cc’s to pretend they’re in control of a situation (and to obliquely menace the email recipient). It’s called ‘broadcasting’.

Conversely, cc’s might be called for if someone’s trying to leave relevant others out of the loop. You decide.

6. Tighten the thread

This advice is all very well, even understandable — an email exchange can become unwieldy. But has the author ever heard of record-keeping? Or the fact an email exchange can end up in court, and be taken out of its original context? If an email discussion is becoming contentious, whereby each side is firing wordy missives at the other, it indeed might be time to take it ‘offline’ and have a face-to-face meeting. 

7. Attack attachments

I think by now most of us recognise the difference between a signature attachment and a document that needs opening. I’ve noticed a trend towards including relevant info in the body of the email, not in an attachment, unless it is more than a couple of pages.

8. Give these gifts: EOM NNTR

I like subject-line-only emails.

I’ve never used EOM (end of message), as I always think it’s easy to see the rest of the email is blank.

And I’ve never used NNTR (no need to reply) because I’ve never had it sent to me!

Personally, I like the response being ‘k’, or ‘ok’. But if you like acronyms, go for it.  But it’s just as good, and more personalised, if you simply write, ‘no need to answer right away’ (or however you like to express this).

9. Cut contentless responses

The email charter stipulates: “You don’t need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying ‘thanks for your note — I’m in’ does not need you to reply ‘great’. That just cost someone another 30 seconds.” 

But for heaven’s sake, has everyone turned into Elon Musk? Reply if, how and when you want to.

10. Disconnect

This is good advice, but it won’t necessarily mean fewer emails. Poor allocation of time or procrastination over email correspondence can signal that you need to switch off, and indeed we all should regularly take a digital detox.

All of the above, with the possible exception of point seven, applies equally to texting. 

I think what is important with emails and texts is to get to know the people you work with regularly and know what style of emails they like to receive, text built-in or attached in word — and find out what drives them crazy.

Personally, I enjoy bullet points, numbers, headings or highlighted key points. I like having people so friendly and close they don’t feel the need to always say ‘dear’ or ‘hi’ or ‘hey’ or ‘hello’, once we are in an email discussion.

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