Have you ever received an e-mail from a business associate that made you wonder what side of the bed he got up on? You probably suspected the tone conveyed was unintentional, but it still left you irritated. It seems that as our inboxes fill up, our e-mail etiquette goes down. Increasingly, we lack the time (and the patience) to craft well-thought-out, complete responses. The results can have unintentional consequences.
As technology evolves with handhelds, smart cell phones and wireless computing, e-mail will play an even bigger communication role than it does today. So, how does your e-mail etiquette rate? Here are a few points to help improve your communication skills:
Have a clear subject: Use clear subject lines. “Re:” does not help your correspondent know if he or she should read it now or later. We are all busy and the easier you make it, the better your message will be received. Also, if you are changing the topic of the e-mail thread, change the subject line. Many people use their inbox as a file system or a “to-do” list. If your subject summarizes the content of the e-mail, your correspondent will be able to respond more quickly when the time comes.
Be concise: Make your message easy to read. It can be impossible to follow an e-mail that has no paragraph breaks, sentences or correct capitalization. Because most people skim, make your message scannable and the reader is more likely to catch the important points. If the message takes longer to write than it would to call, consider using the phone.
Be aware of your tone: Most of us have probably had an e-mail interpreted incorrectly. Avoid that trap by knowing that jokes and sarcasm don’t translate well. Don’t write when you are angry. And don’t use ALL UPPERCASE. It is considered yelling. With business communication, keep smiley faces and emoticons to a minimum.
Acknowledge your reader: Would you start off a conversation without addressing you listener first? Probably not. Consider the effect of beginning an e-mail with no salutation. It can seem curt and rude.
Do a double check: Take a moment to re-read your message. This does take a few minutes longer, but most messages are not error-free and you will save time in the long run. People will subconsciously judge you on your mistakes, most of which can be caught with a quick re-read.
Respond visibly: If you are responding to an e-mail, consider how your comments will look to the recipient. When comments are embedded in the sender’s message, use a different color font or insert your name in brackets. (Both can be automatically set in Microsoft Outlook.)
Don’t forget to attach: That pesky little attachment can be troublesome. Forgetting the attachment too many times can make you look like you are scattered and disorganized.
End appropriately: Just like when you end a conversation, end your e-mails with a courteous closing. This is easy with automatic signature files.
Reach out: E-mail is fast and easy. It provides a paper trail of conversations. It allows you to communicate quickly with many people around the world simultaneously. But managing employee, customer and vendor relationships only through e-mail is unwise. A call or a face-to-face meeting may be more appropriate.
E-mail is like talking. We do it so much that we don’t really think about our actions. But just like in conversations, e-mail has some courtesies that, if adhered to, will improve your communication and your overall effectiveness.