Using Email Effectively & With No Regrets
I’ve made a lot of confessions lately, so why stop now?
My business emails used to be horrendous.
Honestly, I don’t know why my employers put up with it.
The cool thing about making such terrible mistakes while under the guidance of great teachers and coaches is all the learning opportunities.
Last week we started the first of a four-series blog on the topic of business communication – the topic was texting.
When you’ve completed reading this and know how to properly use email, I highly suggest going back to read that and heading to our YouTube channel to check out our latest videos on the same topics.
Before we get into the rules of email etiquette, it’s important for you to understand how much of the work you do on company-owned computers and via company-maintained software belongs to you.
It does not and will not ever belong to you; your company probably has a digital media policy that you were given at some point and in your personnel file sits the sheet of paper with your signature detailing “Yes, I have received a copy of the digital media policy.”
Unless your company has not fully evolved into this century, that policy will in some way, shape, or form make no bones about your intellectual property being theirs when it is produced on their machines or within business hours.
That means that when you are using your company email you have to treat it as you would if you were borrowing a friend’s car: respectfully and only within the terms of your agreement.
- Do not use your company email for personal reasons.
I realize it’s less than convenient to have more than one email.
The reason I realize that is because I have five.
Each serves a different purpose.
I keep my work separate from personal, and everyone should do that.
Because everything you create
Corporate issues are separate from individual client issues.
I have the (highly recommended) junk email account which used to be a primary email account so I still check it for the random occasional friend who emails me there.
If you only have one email account and that email account is your business one, go get a free account through Google or Yahoo immediately.
What if you are the recipient of an unexpected layoff?
You have no contact information or access to your email history.
It’s a bad practice to use your company email as a personal email so just stop now.
- Subjects should be short & to the point
The subject line is not for the first part or first sentence of your email.
I have received emails with subjects such as “I have been meaning to ask you where you got…”
and then the sentence picks back up inside the email.
Do not do that.
It’s lazy and rude.
The subject is just that – a subject.
Think of a bookstore.
It has sections: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Religious, Self-help, Children’s books, Cookbooks
Those are subjects.
Give your email a proper subject such as “Meeting request: Email etiquette” if you are emailing to request a meeting with someone to discuss email etiquette.
- Formality is a must
If you read last week’s blog about texting you realize it’s your responsibility to make sure your written words are not misinterpreted by the receiver.
The same goes here.
Using informal language (or starting the email with “Hey-“) is not okay.
Pretend your grandma is peeking over your shoulder.
If your grandma didn’t have proper etiquette, pretend my mom is peeking over your shoulder – she was proper and judged everything about everyone.
It is fine to begin with a person’s name and not a “letter salutation” as you would a piece of printed correspondence (meaning “Bryan – “ is fine instead of “Dear Bryan,”)
Sign your emails, or better yet, have a professional signature auto-fill so you can skip that step. I do both.
I sign mine above the professional signature at the bottom.
Just be formal.
- The 5-Line Rule
I worked for a very difficult man once who I grew to like a great deal.
He was coming into the organization I was working with in order to downsize, so it was tense at best when we all met him.
I ended up being one in the handful of employees he kept – maybe that’s why I liked him. Who knows.
During his first meeting with the full staff, he told us several things.
One of them was, “If your email is more than 5 sentences long, don’t send it.”
The reason is that if you have to explain so very much in an email, it’s probably a conversation.
Lucky for you that next week’s topic in our communication series is how to conduct a proper business conversation.
His further instruction was, “In the case of an email that is longer than 5 lines, please hit “delete” and create a subject line indicating you want a meeting and about what topic we should meet.”
He then went on, “In the body of the email let me know you need to discuss something with me, restate the topic, and then let me know the amount of time you require for this. My assistant will get back to you with a meeting time that works for both of us.”
If anything he had excellent boundaries. (Do you? Take our free boundaries assessment to find out!)
- Use titles until you’re given the first-name green light
When you have new contacts, always use their title and last name until instructed otherwise.
If you go straight for a “first-name basis” you could risk offending someone.
Usually when someone emails me and begins with “Dear Dr. Mims,” I immediately encourage them to “just call me Jane,” but that’s my call… not yours.
Give other people the respect of being flexible with their titles.
Many people with titles indicating advanced degrees cling to those titles as their very identity.
I do not, but I’m weird.
No matter what someone’s title, let them have it until they give it up for themselves.
- Stop hitting “Reply all”
There was only one instance in my entire corporate career that I can remember the “reply all” function being appropriate, and I’ll tell you about that in a minute.
First I’m going to tell you why I wish this function did not even exist.
When people send around an announcement and everyone feels the need to say “Congrats!” or “Thanks!” or any little one-word exclamation-point-clad word it’s annoying.
It’s the same thing as tossing your Chick-Fil-A cup out of your car window as you’re driving down the street simply because you’ve finished the helping of addictive lemonade you just enjoyed.
9.99 times out of 10 “reply all” responses are digital littering.
As for that one time, I remember having an appropriate “reply all” hit my inbox?
It was the day before a major national holiday and one person in my division emailed the division manager (and copied all of the other staff members, which was not cool on that person’s part, but in the end was fine because our manager was cool) asking “Can we leave early today if we finish all of our work items?”
The boss man hit “reply all” and said “Yes.”
That was appropriate because all of the people on copy were eagerly awaiting that reply.
The reason it was not okay that the person mass emailed that question is two-fold:
Firstly, it was directed at one person so that person was the culprit of digital littering.
Secondly, he totally put our boss on the spot; if he needed us for something it would have been a total jerk move to say no on the eve of a national holiday when we all wanted to get our drink on by the pool.
- Add the recipient’s email address last.
Want to never type “Oops, didn’t mean to send that” ever again?
Then stop typing email addresses before your message is written.
This is also a great tactic to use in order to make sure you’re following through with the next point…
- Proofread every message
Usually, people write emails in a stream of consciousness style, and that’s not the best way for other people to read it.
Re-read your email before sending.
It will only take you a moment and could save you from typos that would even make Dr. Freud blush.
(I recommend this for texts too)
- Be cautious with humor
The intention with which you write something may not be the way someone else reads it.
Including humor (or sarcasm… especially sarcasm) is discouraged.
What if you meant something in “one way” and it is taken a different way?
I’ve made this mistake so please take my word for it and don’t learn it the hard way.
Humor easily gets lost in translation without proper tonality and facial expressions.
Save your hilarity for conversations.
Not in your business emails, ever.
- Use exclamation points sparingly!
See? The exclamation point on that last sentence is unnecessary.
Work to exclude exclamation points altogether if you can.
- Attachments are a rare necessity
They’re big, bulky, and can get your email rejected.
If you have to send a document work towards using the cloud and send a link instead.
In doing this, please take the extra 5 seconds and embed the hyperlink instead of leaving a bunch of URL garbage out there – it’s ugly.
- Be courteous upon exit
A young “professional” sent me an email a few years ago and signed off with “Peace out – Robert”
Sorry, Robert, that looks stupid and sounds even worse.
“Best regards,” “Sincerely,” or even a smug “Best,” is better than something you think is cute, funny, or original.
This is not the place to be original.
Just be courteous and proper instead.
- New topic, new email.
One of the laziest things I’ve seen is someone hit reply to an old email and begin laying out a new topic.
No, lazy britches, don’t do that.
Start a new email.
It’s literally one more click of your mouse.
- Replies do not have to be immediate but should be timely.
I have to put so many clients on email inbox checking diets.
We’re way too connected to that.
Emails are sent to you because you will get to it when you have time.
That said, 3 weeks from now after you’ve returned from next month’s vacation in Barbados is too long.
24 hours max for business responses unless you have an out-of-office notification to the contrary because you’re already in Barbados.
Those are the basics.
I have more, but that will at least get you started.
These are not in any order of importance; if they were I think I would have put #6 and #4 as first and second.
If you have any questions or need clarification on anything here, please join me in our free online mastermind and ask the group. Your coaches will respond promptly.
To claim a complimentary consultation choose your appointment time here.
I’m no longer bad at emailing, but nobody’s perfect.
That doesn’t mean you can’t strive for improvement.
As one of my clients recently said to me “Hey, if we shoot for the stars and miss we’ll still land on top of a mountain.”