email etiquette

Email etiquette – it still matters

I don´t know if this is just one of my fixations, but I really have a dislike for badly written e-mails. And that ends up in me developing an equally large dislike for the person sending the e-mail.

I receive dozens of emails every day. A lot of them demand my action in one way or another. Some of them are “just fyi”, which means that the sender expects me to at least read it and find the content valuable. Now, when I come across a badly written e-mail I have the tendency to stop reading and press the file / delete button. And I am sure I am not the only one. Yet, a lot of coworkers (and usually this is the younger generation – sorry millennials, I am about to annoy you) do not understand that e-mail etiquette matters at least as much as the message that you are trying to get across. At least for some folks, who like me are (almost) 40. Call me old-fashioned or just simply old. In this respect I really don´t care and would strongly encourage everyone trying to build a professional and respectable self-image, to remember and apply the basics of e-mail etiquette:

  1. Subject header: specific, short and searchable. Your recipients will greatly appreciate it, if you adapt the subject header to the actual subject on hand. This applies especially to e-mail chains (aka: “Fw fw fw something else that I started to talk about 2 months ago”).
  2. Use a professional salutation: “Hiya”, “Hey” are just not on in a work environment, keep those for when you are at the pub with your mates. Also, shortening names (unless you have permission to do so), is extremely rude
  3. Be concise and to the point: the more distilled your message is, the better. Include a call for action if you want people to actually do something, if you have expected deadlines. Include the right explanations. Not everybody may have the same level of understanding about the topic, as you do.
  4. Leave humour, irony and cynicism at home: remember social rules and the fact that you are communicating via a screen. Misinterpreted “jokes” can backfire tremendously, especially if they remain in writing. Remember that your communication can potentially reach anybody via a forward.
  5. Proofreading: I know this is tedious and it slows you down, but it really dos not take that long to check for spelling and grammar mistakes. Present yourself via email in a way that people will take you seriously.
  6. Avoid abbreviations: Don´t abuse abbreviations, even if they are commonly used by your peers. Not everybody will know what they mean. Also shorthands like “SRY” or “PLS” just imply that you are too lazy to spell these words out. Equally, signing with your initial(s) connotes a certain degree of narcissism, that you do not want to convey.

Having said this, non of the above means that you cannot be polite, friendly and candid in your emails. In fact, it is the people who manage to get their messages across in a professional, but warm and emotionally intelligent way, that master the art of email communication best.


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