If you don't enjoy communicating via email, maybe it's because everyone has become so bad at it. When scrolling through my inbox, I come across nine distinct types of emailers.
Now I'm not saying I haven't been guilty of an email crime or two in my lifetime but, hey, we all make mistakes. Whether you're early in your career or are seasoned in your craft, don't make a habit of these nine email faux pas.
1. The Instant Messenger
As a teenager in the late 90s, I remember the thrill of communicating rapidly with short one-liners during the AOL instant messenger days -- I'll spare you the embarrassment that was my screen name. But now I save that behavior for Slack, iMessage, and WhatsApp. If you have an email thread with more than a dozen messages in it, you might be guilty of this crime. Solution: pick up the phone or meet face-to-face!
2. The "No, You Hang Up First"
During those same AOL days, I also remember having four-hour phone conversations that spiraled into "let's just listen to each other do our homework" because neither me nor my girlfriend wanted to hang up. You don't need to be the last person to reply to every email. Let it go.
3. The CC: Everyone
There's nothing I hate more than being cc'd on a message with everyone peripherally related to a project, especially when the sender lights the fire with "...thoughts?". Thankfully, Gmail has a mute button. Don't expect to hear from me again in those conversations--someone will have to catch me up later.
4. The Reply from the Dead
Life moves pretty quickly, so if you are replying to emails that are more than a few weeks old, I think one of two things: one, your life is out of control and you forgot about my message until just now, or two, you starred my message but you're too indecisive to respond. Instead, send a brand new message saying, "We left off talking about XYZ, here's what I think...". Take control.
5. The "Reply Below in Magenta"
Whoever started typing their responses inside the original message with all the colors of the rainbow started one of the worst trends in email history. You reply in green, I reply in red, Mike replies in blue, Jen replies in purple, and before long I feel like I should print the email and hang it on my refrigerator instead of responding--just use standard black text. It was a good idea at first, probably in direct response to...
6. The Term Paper
Some people write LONG emails. I'm guilty of this too. But there's a difference between a long email that tells a story or describes a thought process and a long email with 54 hypothesis and questions. It's fine to write your grandmother with every detail of your life, but business emails should be short and specific. If you ask a lot of questions, you run the risk of a colorful response (see above).
7. The Email Signature Brochure
When an email ends with "-Dave," it leaves me wanting more. Maybe a cell phone number at least, in case I need to call you later. But when an email ends with a headshot, your address, your social media links, a small bio, a legal disclaimer, your newest promotion, a digital signature, and a quote by a past president, it feels like coming back to my car with an advertisement on the windshield. I didn't ask for this.
8. The Passive Scheduler
A long time ago, someone gave me the advice to suggest a meeting date, time, and location in one email. It's assertive and easy to respond "yes" to unless the time genuinely doesn't work. Asking "what dates work for you" in one email, then "any places in mind?" in another email is a recipe for lots of needless back-and-forth communication.
9. The 19th Century Scholar
Email should be like talking. If you find yourself using language worthy of an ink and feather pen ("I hope this correspondence finds you well,"), settle down. Instead, try communicating like you would if you were talking with friends or family--just keep it professional.
So what should you do when you face one of these email offenders?
First, recognize that email is a very specific form of communication and there are lots of alternatives, like texts, calls, videos, and messaging platforms. And remember, less is more. Concise, direct communication will earn respect and help you get more done in less time.
We can fight this fight together.