Email Etiquette

In speaking with a number of young professionals, it would seem that many have the opinion that email is "on the way out" and that other communication options such as Texting, Twitter and Facebook are the future.

However in the business world, email is still a huge part of an organization's communication process and I believe will continue to be so for some time to come. Thus, here are some quick tips on Email Etiquette.

Rule #1: Content

The first thing I want to share is to emphasize that you should never ever put anything in an email about anyone else that you wouldn't say directly to their face. Even if it is to one of your close friends... Nothing can destroy a relationship faster than gossip and email gossip has the added benefit of not only spreading like wildfire, it also sticks around forever! Please, be very, very cautious about what you put in an email. Remember, people come and go from offices, relationships change and anytime you gossip with someone, you are creating a reputation that will not necessarily be viewed in a favorable light down the road.

Okay - so I think it is important to separate out two audiences for emails within the office environment. The first is your buddy two floors down and the second is a group that consists of pretty much everyone who isn't a buddy!

So - first of all, your buddy two floors down - well, I would stick to Rule #1 and add in Rule #2.

Rule #2: Grandma is Listening

Rule #2 is - keep things clean. No offensive jokes, language, pictures or questionable links. If you really want to share this kind of thing with him or her, then keep it for your home email account and their home email account. Now except for Rule #1 and Rule #2, I am going to go out on a limb here and say - that's it. Email is convenient and a whole bunch of "rules" just make it less so. Buddy to buddy - we have two rules. No gossip and no filth.

Emails to Everyone Else

As for everyone else - you should consider your emails as "business letters" without the whole blocked out formal address thing. Seriously! What used to be typed up in the secretarial pool and mailed out via the mail room is now expedited from your email account to another's. It is quick, easy and can be very professional...or not. Since you are on this site to learn how to get ahead...let's keep things professional.

Greetings

If you have never met the person to whom the email is being sent, then it is appropriate to address it to them in a formal way, such as Mr. or Ms. The "buddy approach" of "Hey Dude" or, "Hi Lizzy" is not appropriate and will not enhance your reputation within your organization. The first time you connect via email you should always treat the recipient with the respect they deserve and use a formal Mr. or Ms. greeting.

Once they have responded, you will likely find that they have addressed you with a formal Mr. or Ms. as well, however it is very common for them to sign their email with a first name. Take this as permission to address all future correspondence this way. This is not a fool proof rule of thumb but it is close. People who do not wish to be addressed by their first name, rarely sign it that way.

The Subject Line

In any event, your subject line should be short and to the point. I have no doubt that you get this idea but I am still amazed by re-forwarded messages that have been in circulation twelve times so that the only subject you see is: FW:RE:FW:FW:FW... etc. Hardly a compelling read for someone who is getting 200 emails a day!

Email Length

Ideally, your email should be limited to approximately a page in length otherwise, put your message into a formal letter and attach it, making reference to it in the email proper. With the rampant use of Blackberries, this arbitrary length of a "page" becomes less easily defined but ever more important! Trust yourself that if you are on paragraph seven it is likely time for an attached letter!

Salutations

Finally, it is critical that you always sign your emails with at least your full name. Ideally, your email account will provide you with a signature or vcard option that ensures your recipient knows who you are and who you are representing. Again, this is little more than common courtesy. I like including a telephone number as well to make it even easier for the recipient to connect over the phone.

Clarity Is Key

Of course as is the case with all business correspondence - make sure any requests for action are spelled out as clearly as possible. Often people assume that whoever gets the email will be as current with the subject matter as the sender and yet, this is rarely the case. Making it clear that you are asking for input, feedback a decision or some other action is in both of your best interests.

Responsiveness

A lot of people ask me about how quickly one should expect to hear back from an email. At one point, it was customary to expect a 24 hour turn around but these days, all bets are off. People are getting too many emails to respond even with a note saying they will get back to you later. If the email is very important, you should follow it up with a phone call - don't leave your important emails to chance (or a hungry SPAM filter).

Rule #3: Keep your Cool

The final rule I want to leave you with is this. Never respond in anger! Many a career has been sunk because of a misinterpreted email, especially one that is responded to in anger or from the emotional red zone. If you feel so compelled to write a vitriolic response - just to get it off your chest - well great but DO NOT HIT SEND! Save it and look at it again tomorrow when you are calmer. Then edit and release.

Quite frankly, "Email Wars" are just terrible things for all involved. If you receive an email that concerns you or offends you - do not respond by email. Phone the sender and ask what their intention was. Yes this can be difficult but it almost always is more effective at diffusing the situation and getting things back on track than an email!


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