Five Ways to Improve Your Business Email Etiquette
Not everyone realizes how essential it is to be calm when sending an email to a client, colleague, or boss. Even if you're boiling mad inside and ready to spout like Old Faithful, there are certain business email etiquette rules that should be followed. All too often, it's easy to misinterpret what is being said in an email because of a complete lack of tonal cues, which are audible in other forms of communication. Add to that the lack of facial expressions and bodily gestures and the meaning of an email can become easily skewed. As a result, something as simple as a suggestion may come across as curt, rude or bossy. While there are no Emily Post guidelines for business email etiquette to follow, many tried and true tips exist to help you become a more effective communicator.
Five Business Email Etiquette Rules
- Think twice before sending an emotional email. One of the problems with email communication is that it allows us to quickly send out a response without actually engaging in any type of effective communication. Our emails can become missives of anger instead of problem-solving venues. Before sending an angry email, take a break. After all, an angry email can only lead to more awkward, uncomfortable exchanges in the future. Take a quick walk or focus on another project in the short term. You can also discuss the issue with a trusted colleague or write up an email and come back later to tone it down. Another alternative is to pick up the phone and make a call instead: often, our anger becomes tempered when we make the effort to talk to someone directly.
- Use salutations. Like with real letters, emails should include a greeting and salutation. This simply shows that you've taken the couple extra seconds to personalize your message. The question often becomes whether a greeting and salutation are necessary in a string of emails in which the reply button has simply been hit. While they may be OK to skip in a personal string, it could be better to make the effort to include them in the business world. Just typing your name at the bottom of every email before hitting 'send' shows that you are taking the extra time to think about your emails and not typing off responses so fast that you don't have time to say "Thanks, so-and-so."
- Keep your message brief. When it comes to business emails, we often have a tendency to write lengthy emails, include multiple points, provide support for our thinking and even focus on more than one thing. Emails are not a form of communication that are intended to be read with a hot cup of tea or coffee in front of a warm fire, like a juicy novel may be. Instead, emails should quickly relay a point. When it comes to business email writing, focus on one topic only. This doesn't mean that it has to be limited to one detail, but that your topic should be obvious to the recipient. Becoming brief may take some practice, but you can start by rereading your email after you write it to see what sentences can be removed.
- Make sure what you are saying is clear. Purdue’s Online Writing Lab notes that while your business email should be brief, it should also have a clear message.1 Whether it's a small tweak in a business procedure, something that you need someone else to follow up on, or simply a note saying that you'll be inaccessible while with an important client, be sure that your message is toward the top of your business email and clearly stated. Think about the last time you received a long email and whether you read it to completion. And if you did, were you doing a deep read at the end or simply a light skim instead? Yes, that's what we thought -- so state what you want to say up top and consider using unique formatting, such as bullet points, to make your message even clearer.
- Consider the three email rule, but modify it when necessary. In his book, "Message Not Received: Why Business Communication is Broken and How to Fix It," author Phil Simon proposes that if a resolution to an issue has not been reached after three emails then it's time to pick up the phone and have a more efficient conversation instead.2 This may not be applicable in all cases - you may be brainstorming about something with a colleague or asking questions about a low-priority project in spare moments. But when this isn't the case, it could be worth it to pick up the phone, call a colleague and quickly get to the bottom of the matter. Given that 150 to 200 emails business related emails can be received a day, a phone call can also be a refreshing way to communicate with others.
Many of us are overwhelmed with communication, particularly when it comes to email. Can't our inbox just stop accepting new messages? For just a moment? The fact is that while email is meant to improve overall efficiency on the job sometimes it weighs us down and leads to feelings of stress and unnecessary agitation instead. While many tips and suggestions for becoming a more effective communicator in your business emails are available, remember to make sure that you have a system in which your email is working for you and you are not working for your email.
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