Those of us in the Baby Boomer category remember a time before email when business correspondence was done through phone calls, phone messages and face-to-face communication. Unless the person you were trying to reach picked up the phone, there was no such thing as instant communication. You waited, as patiently as possible.
Now this isn’t a yearning to go back to the good old days of slow and limited communication. But, with the introduction of Microsoft Office 365, organizations are adopting cloud based email in scores. The efficiency and reliability of cloud based email services is just another affirmation that communication continues to become easier and more accessible. More employees can communicate from the palm of their hand than ever before. Sending an email from a mobile phone is a marvelous technology that has enhanced our abilities and made business communication quicker and more efficient. But that progress has also opened the door for some sloppiness. Email and texting lends itself to the temptation to be more casual, careless and unprofessional. Trying to ensure professional communication throughout a company is an ongoing effort. But I do think it’s worth adding this expectation to company onboarding procedures and Continuous Improvement Plans so that we all grasp on to the purpose and value of professional business communication and continually work to improve ourselves.
In that spirit, here are 5 Business Email Etiquette Tips we can all use to improve the appearance, substance and practice of our electronic communication.
- Know the Difference Between Professional and Personal Email Styles
All email is NOT the same. There’s a clear difference between emails written to friends and family and those to work colleagues and superiors. The former is open to any style you want to present and can be as casual, careless and risqué as you want. However since electronic communication is open to anyone who can access it, legally or illegally, it’s wise to make sure even your personal email reflects positively on you. On the other hand, work email needs to be professional since it’s a direct reflection of you, your capabilities, your attitude and (no drama intended) your character. Also if your email becomes visible to clients, your electronic communication becomes a reflection of the company you represent.
- Follow Professional Practices
The abundant use of texting has aided the breakdown of the formal letter-writing format where you begin with a salutation or greeting and end with a closing. A great majority of people don’t bother with these conventions when they text, and that habit has spilled over into both formal and informal emailing. Again, you can choose to do away with any formal conventions in your personal communications, but when writing for business, proper format reflects positively on the writer. No business communication should begin with, “Hey!” or “Dude!” or a similar greeting, even if you’re writing to a colleague or friend. Keep the format and appearance sharp. A common excuse I hear from people who don’t use greetings and closings in business email is that they’re in a rush and don’t have the time. But the ability to use email is actually a significant time saver in itself, so it affords you the little bit of extra time to properly greet your recipient and offer a polite closing. Obviously in an email string, you don’t need to use a greeting and closing for each response, but you certainly can for the first and the last.
Good communication also means following good grammar and punctuation rules and not writing in all lower case or all capital letters. All communication is a reflection of the person, so making grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors in any writing shows a certain amount of carelessness or worse that can easily be interpreted negatively.
- Respect Your Reader
Even though email is a great time saver, most of us still have a lot of emails to filter through every day. We need to be mindful of that so we avoid composing long emails that burden the reader unless it’s necessary. Respect the time of the recipient and be as concise as you can afford to be. There’s no need to write multiple paragraphs when one will effectively convey your message. They’re probably under the same time crunch as you, maybe worse. Respect their time, get to the point and avoid fluff. Also avoid too much jargon unless you have an understanding with the recipient and that’s how you’ve agreed to communicate. Be careful to spell out acronyms unless they’re commonly used in your communication and no one else in the present or future chain will be unaware of the meaning.
- Be Nice
Two features of electronic communication are always good to keep in mind. First, once sent, it’s usually impossible to unsend. Yes you might be able to recall the message, but even then, it’s possible the recipient may have seen and saved it before it’s recalled. Second, like diamonds, electronic communication is forever, and it can come back to haunt you. Just ask some prominent politicians today.
It’s always a good idea to avoid including anger, complaints, arguments and anything you might regret later when composing an email, whether it’s personal or professional. A great habit to develop when composing email, especially if there’s emotion involved, is to put the finished email aside and wait a few minutes or longer before sending it. Most of the time, the cooling down period will give you a different perspective, allow you to think of a more positive way to express yourself and guide you as you edit and remove any poison.
- Don’t Be Annoying!
Finally, since email is a near constant and ubiquitous part of everyday life in the modern world, we should strive to NOT be annoying to those with whom we communicate. The list of possible annoyances is huge, but there are three common behaviors that should immediately be stricken from all professional electronic communication.
First don’t ignore emails. Certainly all emails are not the same in importance, and the daily circus of prioritizing emails is a critical part of time management. But professional politeness and common decorum necessitates answering all email that requires a response. A general rule to follow is to try to answer all emails within twenty-four hours, even if it’s just an acknowledgement and promise to respond as soon as possible. Nobody likes to be ignored.
Second use Reply All only when necessary and expected. Far too many people help clog up coworker’s inboxes with replies they don’t need to see. It makes email management that much harder, and it’s really annoying!
Third don’t start the message or write the entire message in the subject line. Just don’t! This one may be a personal pet peeve, but I suspect a lot of people find it as annoying as I do.
Maintaining a professional demeanor in all our actions including electronic communication is good for us personally and professionally. It not only makes a good impression, but it enhances and improves communication between and among coworkers and management. That helps everything in the machine work more smoothly and effectively. Ultimately clients notice it. And that is a good thing!