Is it just me or has email etiquette taken a nosedive in the last few years? I’m not sure what has led to the decline: reading and responding to messages on mobile devices or the rush-rush of our 24/7 lives? Could it be that we have less patience and get frustrated faster?
In the past two months, I’ve trained four departments on email etiquette in an effort to improve organizational culture. From what I’ve seen, email misunderstandings have caused a whole host of problems leading to co-worker distrust and lack of productivity.
For example, if an employee receives an email that he or she deems as offensive, he or she may spend 10 minutes venting to a co-worker, 30-45 minutes crafting the “perfect response” and 15-30 minutes editing the final message (often with the help of a co-worker). Then they wait, sometimes for hours, for the other person to reply…and so on.
Unfortunately, we’ve forgotten the basic rules of email etiquette, particularly as it relates to internal communications. So here are five tips to help keep your messages free of miscommunications:
Greet the receiver
A simple greeting such as, “Hi Jane!” (informal) or, “Dear Superintendent Williams” (formal), goes a long way in putting the end user at ease instead of on the defensive.
Would you rather receive an email that said: “Why didn’t you get back to me about project A?” Or, one that said:
I just wanted to follow-up on the status of project A. Could you please give me an update by tomorrow so I can finish my report?
Thank you!” ?
We see this issue in academia as well. Professors often lament that respect from students is a thing of the past. It’s not uncommon for students to send an email to their professor that simply says, “Why did I only get a B+ on that assignment?” No, “Dear Professor L.” or, “Hi Dr. G.” as an opener.
Check your tone
Re-read your email before you send it. If you were on the receiving end, would you interpret the message differently than what was intended? If, so, tweak it. And don’t forget that words such as “please” and “thank you” can do wonders for relationship-building (and/or mending).
For years, “efficiency experts” touted cutting salutations and closings, and nixing the simple reply, “Thanks!” But unless you are really close with a co-worker and/or have some type of organizational-wide policy, those types of messages (or lack thereof) can come across as rude or even non-responsive.
In the 90s, my mom was a criminal intelligence analyst for the local police department and she always told me to never put anything in writing that I wouldn’t want printed on the front page of the newspaper.
This holds true even more in today’s digital age. Emails get forwarded, people BCC one another and emails get FOIA’d during trials or lawsuits. Would you be okay with the entire organization (or even the public) seeing what you wrote in an email to a co-worker? I worked with one district where employees’ emails were splashed across the front page of a major daily paper during an investigation, so this isn’t a stretch.
I’ve also seen an instance where an employee resigned to the superintendent, citing unprofessional behavior from co-workers and attached screenshots of nasty emails a few people in the organization had sent. Can you imagine the follow-up conversations with those employees? Think twice before you send.
Detailed, yet concise
Make sure all of the important details are included, but be concise: don’t expect someone to read three or four paragraphs of your email to try and figure out what you need.
Use lists (bulleted or numbered) and/or bold subheadings where appropriate and always offer to meet with the receiver if they have any questions or concerns.
Don’t assume bad intentions
If you don’t receive a response to your email, don’t assume the receiver just blew it off. Spam filters can trap even internal emails, it could have been mistakenly deleted or they’ve been in back-to-back meetings and haven’t had a chance to check their emails yet.
If you need to follow up, forward your original sent message, with a quick note such as:
I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to read my email below from last week or not, but I was hoping to have a response by tomorrow so I could wrap up my report. If there is anything I can do to assist with the process, just let me know. I would appreciate it if you could please get back to me either way.
The email is respectful, to-the-point and has a clear call-to-action. It is not passive, yet it is polite. Sure is a lot better than,“Still waiting….”
Yes, adding a salutation and closing can take an extra 15 seconds. Yes, sometimes you really want to lash out via the written word. However, consider being a bit more empathetic in your emails because it does go a long way in helping to foster a positive organizational culture.
If anything, before you send, be sure that you would be perfectly fine with your email being forwarded to your supervisor and/or colleagues; if you’re not, edit away.