Email is how you represent yourself at work. Think about it: You email your colleagues and clients far more than you actually talk to them.
And yet, so many people are terrible at email. They're unprofessional and annoying, and the worst part is... when you make a mistake, no one tells you how to fix it.
That's because email is like driving or cooking. We think we're good at it, even if we're terrible. We dramatically overestimate our ability at it, and when someone corrects us, we take it personally.
Here is where you'll learn the 11 ways you're using email that's driving your co-workers insane that no one is telling you about.
Phrases you should never use:
1. "Let me know what time works best for you!"
When you write this, you think you're doing the other person a favor. They get to choose the time! They can pick what's convenient for them, and you'll adjust your schedule accordingly.
That couldn't be more wrong.
You're asking the other person to do work. They have to go to their calendar, look for free times, pick three (because one inevitably never works), and write an email laying them out for you.
You might as well send them an email saying, "Hey, could you grab me a cup of coffee?"
2. "Sorry for taking so long to respond."
Often the apology is followed by something like "I was totally slammed last week." What you're saying with your faux-pology really is "I'm so busy, I'm so important."
Never apologize when you really should say thank you.
Instead, write "Thanks for your patience" and send positive vibes their way, not negative ones.
3. "I'd love to pick your brain."
This couldn't make you sound more self-centered. What's in it for the person whose brain gets picked?
A good rule of thumb is to frame your emails as what's in it for the recipient, not what's in it for you.
4. "It would be great if you could..."
If you're making a request of someone, never try to hide it. Instead, write your request out as an actual question: "Could you... ?"
When you turn an interrogative into a declarative, it actually makes you look weak. That's because phrasing your request as a question makes you vulnerable. The other person could say no.
Trying to get around that by phrasing it as a declarative sentence shows that you're afraid to make yourself vulnerable, and that fearfulness will lower you in the eyes of your colleagues.
Formatting mistakes that make your emails unreadable:
5. One gigantic paragraph.
Your paragraphs should be two sentences long max.
The problem is that gigantic paragraphs are un-skimmable and that makes them incredibly inefficient. I promise you that your emails aren't literary works worthy of being read carefully.
Make it easy for your co-workers to skim and consume. They should be able to get the high-level points from your email with a single glance.
6. Inconsistent number of line breaks between paragraphs.
Have you ever received an email where some paragraphs have one line break between paragraphs and others have two, and for no clear reason?
It's like getting a hair in your food--it's not really a big deal. A hair won't kill you. But it makes you wonder what in the world is going on behind the scenes that you don't know about.
Organize your thoughts, put them in email form, and format your email in the same organized way.
7. Using words and sentences when you should use bullet points.
It's counterintuitive, but words and sentences are the least efficient way to communicate your thoughts via email.
If you have a list, don't write it out with words and sentences--lay it out with bullets. If you have a series of steps that someone needs to take, put it as a numbered list. Why?
Routing oversights that drive your co-workers insane:
8. Not BCC'ing your boss when you told her you would send an email.
When you send an email, no one but you and the person you sent it to know you sent it.
That's enough to drive your boss insane. When she tells you to email Bob, she doesn't want to have to ask in a week whether you emailed Bob. She has 10 reports, each of whom are supposed to send 10 emails -- that's 100 emails she has to keep track of in her head.
When someone asks you to send an email, BCC or CC them. Then they automatically know you sent it.
When you don't do this, you force your boss to do more work, and that's the last thing they want to do.
9. Not replying-all so everyone else on the thread can see you replied.
You and your co-worker Joan know someone absolutely has to reply to the email from Jeff the client.
You reply, but you don't reply-all. A few days later, Joan asks, "Hey, did you send that email to Jeff?" Joan has to do this with five email threads per day.
She sounds nice because Joan is a nice person, so you forget about it and do the same thing a week later.
As for Joan, she's cursing your name on her commute home.
10. Mass emailing group lists.
The first thing you need to realize is no matter how great you think your email is, 99.99 percent of people won't care about it.
That's why you should basically never ever use everyone@, ny-office@, etc.
If you think it's possible your email might be worthy of wider distribution, please ask someone for an objective, detached opinion.
11. Starting a new thread when you should reply to an old one.
You're 100 percent focused on Project X, but your client is juggling 10 projects at once. Instead of systematically using email threading to maintain context, you jump around, sometimes replying to old threads and other times starting new ones.
When an issue comes up that your client actually needs to understand, he goes bonkers with frustration and is ready to fire you. He has to dig through five separate email threads just to get caught up.
Take a logical, systematic approach to maintaining context or creating a new context in your email. Everyone you work with will thank you.