The use of email in the corporate world has been rampant. I never receive letters anymore. Even phone calls are few at about ten times a day. But I still receive a multitude of emails all day long. Despite the fact that email is not a new thing, most people still don’t know proper email etiquette.
I’ve written before on how to stay on top of your email and how to organize your email. Tim Ferriss is famous for being the antithesis to everything that is email. The topic of how to process your email has been discussed at length for years now. Unfortunately, proper email etiquette is rarely a topic of discussion.
I would like to suggest a few ways on how you can improve your communication and effectiveness through proper e-mail etiquette.
1. Include a professional signature. – I see it time and time again, someone will send me an email with a picture of an animal or dancing bears in their signature. Their signature will simply be their name followed by an annoying cavalcade of dancing bears. Instead, opt for your business logo, telephone number, fax number, web address and possibly links to your social networks. I use icons at the bottom of my signature that link to Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.
2. Understand the fields. – Learning how to use the To, CC and BCC is a very important part of proper e-mail etiquette. Only include the person or persons who you are directing the message to in the To field. CC is used as an “FYI” service. CC includes people who you want to be aware of the email but do not need to respond. BCC should be used sparingly. It hides the recipient so no one knows they can see the email. I do this with my boss sometimes when I want him to be aware of something but I don’t want the recipients to contact him.
3. Consider your medium – Is e-mail the best way to convey this subject? Often times, the emails I receive would have better fulfilled their purpose through a face to face conversation or a phone call. Don’t be afraid to step away from your desk and actually speak with people.
4. Keep it short – My rule of thumb is 200 words. If I can’t get my message across in less than 200 words, I’ll just call the person. I’m notorious for sending emails that are on the lists. I do this with my builder. I send a list of everything that needs to be fixed. Then I call him and explain each one in details.
5. Reply in a timely manner. – Responding once or twice a day is sufficient for most executives. To avoid long delays in your response, download Xobni. I’ve written here about Xobni before. Xobni will analyze your inbox and show you the peak times that you receive most of your emails. Choose to respond shortly after the two peaks. In this way, you’ll be responding shortly after receiving most of your messages.
6. Do Not Criticize. – E-mails live forever. I have several very rude e-mails from a past client. A judge has asked to see them for a case against him. This kind of thing is always better handled in person where your body language can be read as well.
7. Don’t forward chain letters. – I receive these nearly everyday. I respond to none of them. Being a person who is known to send frequent chain letters makes you a target for having your emails ignored. Once you’ve wasted enough of someone’s time, they become leary of opening your e-mails. If you feel this type of message is important enough to forward, please check the validity on Snopes.com first. This is proper email etiquette.
8. Don’t forward lewd content. – Forwarding something racist, defamatory or libelous can get you sued. It doesn’t matter if you’re not the original author. If you spread it, you’re liable. Proper email etiquette is to just not send or forward this type of message.
9. Company email is not private. – Companies have full access to everything you say and do through their email accounts. If you need to send a private email, do so through Gmail or any similar service.
10. Never use ALL CAPS. – It is harder to read and it’s very annoying. It’s equivalent to walking into someone’s office and screaming your conversation.
11. Proofread your content. – It is not uncommon for me to use the word “you” instead of “your.” My fingers have a hard time keeping up with my brain. Your emails are direct reflections of yourself. Have them make a good impression by proofreading every message before you send it. Also, the use of spell-checker is a good idea for proper email etiquette.
This list is likely missing many other suggestions for observing proper email etiquette. If you have other suggestions I’d like to hear them in the comments below. With the amount of time spent on email daily, I’m sure most of us have ideas that can make email a more effective method of communication.
What can you suggest?