Since making inroads in the workplace in the 1990s, email has transformed the business world. Quite simply, the communication medium allows workers to easily maintain an asynchronous dialogue with their colleagues, thereby accelerating decision making.
Email is one of the most important pieces of equipment in a worker’s tool belt. According to The Radicati Group, today’s workers send and receive an average of 125 emails a day. The research firm projects that the figure will rise to 140 by 2018.
Since you’ll be sending and receiving more and more emails on a near-daily basis, the question’s worth asking: how confident are you in your email skills? Consider the following 13 workplace email faux pas so you can avoid them:
- Forwarding questionable emails: A business email account is not the same thing as a personal one. So even though a colleague might have sent you the cutest kitten pictures ever, think twice before forwarding them to your boss during work hours.
- Writing too informally: This isn’t the same email chain that all your buddies from college are on. So be polite and conscientious. Avoid using abbreviations (e.g., “plz,” “tx,” “lol”) unless you’re certain that you’re comfortable enough with your business partners on the receiving end of your messages.
- Sending a message to the wrong person: It’s certainly not uncommon for today’s workers to have more than one “Bill” in their contact lists, for example. Be sure to double-check your email is addressed to the right folks to save yourself embarrassment at best, or sending privileged information to the wrong person at worst. Better yet, enable the “undo send” feature if your email client supports it.
- Escalating an email unnecessarily: Don’t involve your manager in a dispute you can handle on your own. For example, Forbes tells a story of a 30-something web designer who ended up hurting her career by copying her supervisor on an email chain when she and a colleague couldn’t agree on an issue. Though her intentions were pure, her coworker got furious, and her manager felt it was a bad move. She left the company shortly thereafter.
- Following up too quickly: The world doesn’t revolve around the emails you write. If a colleague, a coworker, or even an employee doesn’t respond to your messages right this second, take a deep breath and relax. Everyone’s busy, so some people might not be able to respond to your inquiries right away. It’s perfectly okay to nudge your contacts after a few business days. And managers, of course, can expect their workers to respond quickly — not instantly. Just be reasonable.
- Littering your messages with emoticons: While those who use emoticons (like :-), :-(, and others) in their emails may be trying to show the world how nice they are, those on the receiving end of such messages may think the sender is a bit juvenile. To eliminate the possibility you’re perceived that way, convey your pleasant personality through words (e.g., “Have a fantastic weekend!”).
- Taking too long to respond to simple inquiries: You certainly don’t have to drop everything you’re doing to respond to the emails you receive the second they light up your inbox. But people certainly appreciate quicker responses. Do your best to keep your inbox as close to zero as you can (i.e., respond to messages as quickly as is reasonably possible).
- Being the 50th person to hit “reply all”: Everyone’s been on one of those never-ending email chains that keep clogging your inbox. While it’s certainly fine to be quick to join in on congratulating a colleague on a promotion, for example, try not to be the guy or gal who writes “Great news, Rick!” four days and fifty replies later.
- Copying unnecessary people on simple correspondence: Back to those stats from The Radicati Group: workers are getting more emails than ever before, and the projections indicate that the trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Copying people on unessential messages simply adds to their already cluttered inboxes. Only send messages to people who need to see them.
- Requiring your employees to copy you on all messages: Though the NSA may be reading all of our emails, workers still expect a modicum of privacy in their business inboxes — they don’t feel comfortable having their bosses read every single note they write. If you’re requiring your employees to copy you on every email they send, stop it right now.
- Letting your emotions infiltrate your inbox: Mad at a coworker or colleague for seemingly dropping the ball on a project? Ticked off by the tone your boss assumed in an email asking you to do something quickly? It’s best not to let your emotions affect the words written in your emails. Rather than quickly firing off a snarky response you might soon regret, take a walk to collect your thoughts before replying.
- Clicking "send" too quickly: Everyone’s sent an email and subsequently realized they didn’t convey everything they intended to say. Do your best to ensure all the ideas you wish to get across are included in your message before you send it by checking and double-checking your work. You don’t want to send coworkers or clients any more emails than is absolutely necessary (within reason). Remember, clutter causes fatigue.
- Saying too much: Email is the preferred mode of business communication because workers are able to ask and answers questions quickly — at their own convenience. That said, we’ve all received emails that appear as though they were penned by James Joyce (i.e., impossibly large blocks of text that seemingly go on forever, the ramblings of which are nearly indecipherable). Sure, from time to time, situations may merit a more in-depth approach. But for the most part, to make sure colleagues don’t cringe when your name pops up in their inboxes, err on the side of brevity in most of your business emails.
Email etiquette is constantly changing. But the good news is that your behavior isn’t set in stone. Are you guilty of committing any of these email faux pas? If so, it might be time to change your approach to the craft. Your employees, colleagues, and coworkers will thank you.
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