Email Etiquette

C. David Venture Management, LLC

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A lesson in e-mail etiquette...

No doubt, email is an important business tool.  It is efficient and effective.  However, people have begun to use email in inappropriate ways: it is used to introduce sensitive emotional issues, it is used as a stealth weapon to attack the unsuspecting, and it is used as the “easy way out” of a tough conversation.  Wow, I don’t think that Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of the first email program in 1971, ever thought that email would turn us into a bunch of chickens.

Not to worry, I have some good email etiquette suggestions:

One. If you have a sensitive topic to introduce to someone, speak with them in person.  Once a topic has been properly introduced verbally, email is often an acceptable venue to continue discussions.

Two. If someone fires a heated email at you, do not fire back.  This is known as “flaming.”  A retaliatory strike will only fuel the fire and escalate an already tense situation.  Take a deep breath, relax, and take the time to speak with the person.

Three. If you have to think twice about writing an email because you are uncertain how it will be received, make the decision to speak to the person first.  The spoken language allows for inflection and tone.  It also allows you to redirect mid-conversation to accommodate for the changing mood or response of the receiver.

Four. If you find yourself staring at an unsent email wondering if you have phrased something properly, delete the email and speak with them in person.  Remember, email messages are often received in ways not intended by the sender.  The receiver’s mood will dictate how the email is read.  Given the way we all work, you may as well assume that the reader is busy and stressed.

Five.  Finally, and this is the big one on the email etiquette list, if you can’t say something to someone’s face, don’t say it in an email.  I have seen people, even executives, hide behind the mask of email to convey messages they are too chicken to deliver in person.  Here’s the bottom line: if you don’t have the spine to deliver an important message to someone in person, your license to operate a computer should be revoked.

Whew!  I’ve been waiting to say that for a long time.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think that email is an art form that should be left to literary geniuses.

I have also listed below a number of additional email etiquette suggestions for you.

» Additional Email Etiquette Suggestions

Get to the point. Make your message concise and keep your sentences short.  Reading an email is more difficult than reading printed material.  Chances are, if you write a long email it will not get read thoroughly.

Use proper grammar, spelling and punctuation.  Email is not an excuse to abandon the principles we learned in elementary school.  Yes, this is an evolving language and I am not one to stop progress, but, for now, improper use of the language creates a bad impression of you and your company.  You also have to be careful using symbols, :), and other emoticons in the business environment.  Cute isn’t always good.

The 24 hour rule.  If someone emails you, try to get back within 24 hours, just as you would if someone called you on the telephone. A good email etiquette rule to follow.

Think carefully about sending attachments.  For the most part, if someone does not know that you are sending an attachment or does not know you well, the attachment will likely not get opened.  Most of us have already been burned at least once by a nasty virus.

Read your email out loud.  Often, reading an email out loud will help you craft a note that sounds better.

Make your email easy to read.  Reading from a computer screen is not the same as reading from paper.  Make your paragraphs short and space them out.  Use bullets and numbering.

Never cry wolf.  Only use “flags” when your message is very, very important.  If you don’t, your emails will end up at the bottom of your recipient’s priority list.

DO NOT SHOUT.  When you type in capital letters, it means you are yelling.  If you do this, STOP IT.  The people on the receiving end of your messages are likely getting annoyed by your tone.

Use the reply button to keep the conversation thread intact.  This helps remind the readers what has already been discussed without having to go back and search through emails.  However, be careful about overusing the reply to all button.  Do not email those people who do not need to read your response.

Do not try to recall messages.  For the most part, once you have sent a message…it’s gone. Just write another email and correct your mistake.  If you are writing an important email, do not fill in the email address until you are done proofing.  That way, if you accidentally hit send, it will not go anywhere.

Check your spelling.  Good professionals use correct grammar and spelling.  Pay attention because you can make mistakes even with spell check.

Use the BCC field when sending broadcast emails (emails to a large number of people).  BCC (blind carbon copy) allows you to send messages that do not disclose email addresses to every recipient.  The fact is, most people do not want their email addresses made public.

Use the CC field sparingly
.  We receive enough email as it is, only include those people that really need to receive your message.

Not everyone receives email in HTML format.
  Many receive it in text format, which means all your fancy formatting, bolding, colors, and backgrounds are stripped from the email.  Many times the message is then received in an unreadable format.  Keep it simple.

Do not forward chain letters.
  How many times have you received an email that says “Hi, my name is Nkem Ballassi and I need help.”  Trust me, your friends and colleagues find them annoying too.

Do not request delivery and received receipts.  No one wants you “checking up” on them.  If it is that important, pick up the phone and call.

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