Emails have become a necessary evil in the workplace. I say evil because my inbox right now has 169 unread emails, which makes me quiver with anxiety. But that's nothing compared to some of my friends and colleagues. I've seen inboxes with 3,000+ unread emails!
No surprise, given that by next year, we will send nearly 250 billion emails to each other a day. That's about 33 emails each of us on Earth sends and receives every 24 hours. No wonder we're so burdened and overwhelmed.
With emails accounting for such a big part of our lives, it's incredible there aren't more guidelines on how to use this form of messaging. I've learned tricks and hacks from different people, but a lot of my experience comes from making humiliating mistakes on email. How often did I send personal correspondence on my work emails? A lot. How often did I fire off an emotional email, only to regret it the minute I hit "send?" More times than I'd like to admit.
Email etiquette is very important--it's an integral part of how you communicate and develop relationships with people. I decided one of the first things I'd ask our Radiate Experts for advice on is how they manage emails. Below are some of their--and my own--tips to avoid the most common email mistakes:
- Bad grammar/spelling. I get it--we're all super busy. Misspellings and grammar mistakes happen, but people who consistently spell wrong, oddly capitalize words, or always sound like they're typing in a run-on sentence can turn people off in the workplace. You look sloppy and unprofessional. At least proofread your emails once, especially if the message is going to a Very Important Person.
- Misdirected emails. These things happen--messages are sent to the wrong recipient all the time. We have butterfingers (look at Serena Williams unintentionally announcing her pregnancy by hitting the wrong button on Snapchat). Save time groveling and spend a few seconds reading over your email to make sure all intended recipients are in your "To:" line. One of my readers left a funny example under one of my posts recently: "I was sent a message and it was asking for business. The sender did not check the name and addresses me by the name David! Funny and disappointing," says Lesa Prendergast.
- Too much BCC. BCC--or "blind copy"--should be used sparingly. It is often used as an agent for in-office political manipulation. Remember that BCC recipients can still reply to the emails, thus they can easily be "found out" to have been put on an email chain. I generally dislike using BCC, period. If I have to, I much prefer forwarding an email to someone who should see something but should not be included in the original email group.
- The dreaded "Reply All." Unless your email applies to absolutely everyone, please stop using Reply All continuously. One reader, Shanese Sanders, said it best in one of our Comments sections: "There are roles that require a high volume of email traffic. Including the entire office on a 'thank you' directed to only the original author may seem harmless. However, if 50 people send a 'thank you,' it can become a huge distraction."
- Silence. The easiest way to elicit a negative feeling is to non-reply. Sometimes even an update on the progress of a request will do, just to show some courtesy. You never know when you might urgently need them to reply to you on something in the future. However, I'd like to apologize in advance to all 169 people in my inbox who have not heard from me.
- Saying "To whom it may concern." Do we still do that these days? Every time I see this in an email, I immediately hit delete.
- Not changing the subject line. We are all guilty of doing this. A hundred percent of our focus goes into the body of the email and not the subject line above. The result is a string of emails in my inbox with the word "Hi" in the subject line, making it utterly hard for me to search or sort. Not to mention Gmail loves to clump together "Hi" subject line emails so that I find everyone has now conveniently been put into one incredibly diverse and confusing email string. So do us all a favor and please correctly label subject lines to make it easier for everyone.
- Marking emails as unnecessarily urgent. Making a habit of tagging emails as "Urgent," "Requires immediate response," or "Reply ASAP" can be dangerous. Your recipients will soon start to ignore your so-called "urgent" pleas. This can (obviously) lead to problems when an email really does require immediate action.
- Long emails. When it comes to email writing we have a tendency to ramble on before making our point or request. Consider how your message will come across to a recipient and try to cut the excess. When you have the opportunity to keep it concise and snappy, do it.
- Late night emails. Responding to emails in haste and in a sleep-deprived state is never a good idea. It's always good to sleep on an email that you are not sure of. The tone and intent behind your response might make a lot less sense in the cold light of day. Plus, your colleagues will appreciate not getting a notification email at 4 a.m.
- Emotional emailing. And finally, the dreaded angry or upset email habit. I have more than once fired off an email just to "get something off my chest" and immediately regretted it. Never send an email when you're emotional. If you feel the intense urge to write it, do so but make sure you save it in Drafts. After 24 hours, read it again, and you'll find most of the time, you won't ever need to hit "Send."