Sincerely, yours: A look at Business Email Etiquette
12 ways to avoid committing an email faux pas
Email has become an essential and efficient means of communications in the modern business world. You click reply, dash off a message, and hit “send.” Fast and easy, right? Actually, it’s not always so easy. Emails can actually get you into a lot of trouble if you’re not careful. “Experts agree that your e-mail behavior has the potential to sabotage your reputation both personally and professionally,” according to an Inc. article.
Email’s immediacy and ease, coupled with a lack of face-to-face interaction, can lead to problems and misunderstandings. So, how can you ensure that your emails remain professional and free of these professional landmines?
We’ve put together 12 tips for good email business etiquette:
- Remember, emails are never truly private.
How many times have you come across a story about an employee who wrote an inappropriate email and sent it to a colleague or company-wide? Not only can emails be shared internally, they also have a tendency to spread across the Internet like wildfire, very often taking the person’s career up in smoke. It’s important to decide if the topic you’re writing about should be handled behind closed doors. According to Inc., “Ask yourself if the topic being discussed is something you’d write on company letterhead or post on a bulletin board for all to see before clicking send.”
- Be professional from the first “Hello”
Avoid using informal or colloquial expressions as your email opener. Words and phrases like “hey” or “hi folks” should not be used in a professional setting. Also, don’t shorten or abbreviate a person’s name (e.g. Mike in place of Michael) unless you are certain he or she prefers that nickname.
- Remind the person who you are.
Most of us get hundreds of work emails a day. You can’t assume that the person who receives your message will automatically remember you. Perhaps you only met once several months ago. The recipient may even know several people with the same name. If you are writing to someone you don’t know well, include a brief introduction stating how you met or explaining your connection. This is the best way to avoid confusion.
- If you’re angry, think before you hit send.
You know that old adage about counting to ten before you open your mouth? This precaution goes double for emails. We’ve all been there before. Someone sets us off, and we want to blast him or her in an angry email. It’s so tempting, but RESIST! Yes, we put that in all caps. Because you are not face-to-face, it is easy to say something you wouldn’t dare in person. You will end up getting yourself into trouble.
It’s not just angry rants that should be kept out of emails. “E-mailing with bad news, firing a client or employee, reprimanding someone, disparaging other people (particularly if you’re saying something less than kind about your boss) are all major no-no’s,” according to Inc.
- Be careful about hitting “Reply All”.
Refrain from sending a group message if the subject does not pertain to every person in the email. “No one wants to read emails from 20 people that have nothing to do with them. Ignoring the emails can be difficult, with many people getting notifications of new messages on their smartphones or distracting pop-up messages on their computer screens,” according to Business Insider.
- Use clear and concise subject lines.
As we mentioned above, people can get hundreds of emails a day. Wading through them takes time and the task become even more difficult when they need a decoder ring to figure out what you want. Make things easier for the recipient by being upfront and clear from the first line. According to Business Insider, “People often decide whether to open an email based on the subject line … Choose one that lets readers know you are addressing their concerns or business issues.”
- Make sure the subject line matches the message.
It might seem convenient to open an old email, hit “Reply,” and then send a new message. However, this can create confusion for the recipient if the subject is something other than the subject line implies. If the content in the email relates to a different subject, then start a new email chain.
- Never share confidential information.
No matter what profession you are in, it is vital that confidential information stay that way. Never share sensitive information about a client, co-worker or case. This is even more important if you are working in the legal field in any capacity. In many cases, you could even face serious legal consequences for leaking private or confidential information.
- Use appropriate words and spellings.
Emails can become pretty informal. If you’re talking to a friend, you might abbreviate, use slang or an emoticon. Don’t do this in a business email. “Words from grown, business people using shortcuts such as “4 u” (instead of “for you”), “Gr8” (for great) in a business-related e-mail is not acceptable,” according to Inc.
- Be careful when sending emails with large attachments.
Emails with large files or attachments can clog the recipient’s email box, preventing them from receiving others. Some email servers also have size limits so your message will not go through. If you need to send a large file, call the person first. You might have to find an alternate way to send or use a file sharing service like DropBox or Google Docs.
- When in doubt, go old school and pick up the phone.
There are times when a matter becomes too complicated to handle via email. That’s when it’s time to pick up the phone. “When a topic has lots of parameters that need to be explained or negotiated and will generate too many questions and confusion, don’t handle it via e-mail,” according to Inc.
It is fine to send an email later, detailing what you discussed, especially if you want documented proof or digital consent, but sometimes old-fashioned phone calls really are better.
- Include an email signature at the end of every email.
Make it simple for the recipient to get in touch with you. Every email should end with your contact information, including your full name (in case the recipient doesn’t know you well), title, and phone number. Most email systems will allow you to set up an auto signature that will appear at the end of each message, without you physically having to type it in each time.
Email is an essential business tool for everyone, but it also has the potential to get you in trouble. Make sure you follow these tips to ensure you remain professional at all times.
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