Depending on who you’re chatting to and how many unread messages they have in their inbox, email is either the greatest communication tool ever invented or the biggest productivity drain in business today.
As always the truth lies somewhere in between, but love it or hate it email is now such an integral part of our work lives it’s important to know how to manage it.
Here are seven ways to sharpen up your email etiquette.
1 Short and sweet
The foundation of great business communication is efficiency, so get in the habit of writing clear and concise emails.
Don’t waste time with unnecessary pleasantries, use bullet points to simplify your message and be direct about any action that you want people to take.
According to Aussie software company Atlassian, the average employee receives 304 emails a week, so if you’re in the habit of sending rambling essays chances are they’ll get lost in the noise.
2 Grammar matters
While it’s usually fine to take a conversational tone in work emails, that doesn’t mean you can forget about the basics.
Correct spelling and proper grammar come across as professional, and it’s also less likely your message will be misinterpreted or, worse still, ignored completely.
On the flip side, an email full of errors diminishes your credibility and can even make some people unreasonably angry, so before hitting send take the time to double check what you’ve written.
And for important emails, it never hurts to ask someone else to run their eyes over your work for a second opinion.
3 The three Ss
Don’t underestimate the importance of the three Ss; subject, salutation and signature.
The subject line is the only chance an email has to make a great first impression, so avoid vague titles and aim to give the reader a clear understanding of what the message is about.
An appropriate salutation, on the other hand, sets the tone of your message.
Kicking off an email to the guy who sits a couple of desks away with ‘dear’ may feel overly formal, but greeting a client with ‘hey’ can come across as casual and flippant, so use your discretion depending on the situation.
And always double check how to spell the recipient’s name, as getting this wrong is guaranteed to put people offside.
Finally, a proper signature is a must. It looks professional and saves someone flicking through a mountain of business cards when they want to get in touch.
4 Smiley faces are subjective
There’s no hard and fast rule here, but think twice before chucking a smiley face, exclamation mark or abbreviation like LOL into a work email.
People don’t always understand or appreciate these modern communication quirks and some view them as unprofessional, so it’s best to err on the side of caution… 😉
5 Careful with carbon copies
It’s okay to copy in the world when sending an email, because everyone should be completely across what you’re doing, right? Wrong.
CC’ing colleagues on emails who don’t need to be involved is a waste of their time, so make a considered decision on who to include.
And be careful when using the BCC function as you’ll appear sneaky and underhanded if it comes to light that you’ve been secretly copying other people into one-on-one emails.
If someone needs to be across an email, it’s generally best to copy them in using the CC box.
6 The golden rule
Not sure what tone to take in an email? Stuck on whether ‘regards’ or ‘cheers’ is a more appropriate sign-off?
Just remember this golden rule.
If you’ve emailed with your recipient previously – or you’re replying to their email – use their tone as a guide for how to structure the message.
Otherwise, the safest and simplest option is to keep things professional until you get a gauge of what they’re like.
7 Pick up the phone
The most important lesson to learn about email etiquette is when to send a message and when to pick up the phone.
In many cases you can save countless hours of everyone’s time just by making a quick call and asking a question. Plus, you’ll get an answer straight away.
Image courtesy R. Nial Bradshaw, cropped, via Flickr