Don't Make These Email Mistakes!

Have you ever gotten an email that made you want to lose your cool? The Public Speaker explains how to maintain professionalism and avoid embarrassing email exchanges that might get you into hot water. 

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #261

Use Pre-Written Responses

If this is something that will be repeated, or your response would be helpful in the future, then go ahead and respond. I use a product called Text Expander that allows me to store pre-written responses to different subjects.

For example, I used to get frustrated by people sending me angry messages regarding printouts from their printers. On certain printers, if a selection is made on the panel, the printer will automatically print content from my company on a scheduled basis. Because this technology is so new, many people don’t realize what it is, or understand that they themselves selected the setting. Instead, they get upset--and think I am sending them spam faxes.

To proactively address this issue, I drafted a standard response on how to change the settings to stop the unwanted pages. Instead of responding negatively, now when I get a message, I simply use my pre-written response. Having pre-written responses is a good thing, because I’ve received some pretty nasty messages—including threats to report me to the authorities!

Skip the “Snark”

If you are responding on the fly, be careful about using rhetorical questions, especially “snarky” ones. Even really simple phrases can sound ugly. This is especially true when questions are conveyed via email.

For example, here’s another line from Kelly Blazek’s email. When I use the word “snark”, this is what I’m talking about:

"Oh, and about your request to actually receive my Job Bank along with the 7,300 other subscribers to my service? That's denied, too....I suggest you join the other Job Bank in town  Oh wait- there isn't one.”

Perhaps a more educational response would have been better. Something like, “I’d love to provide you access to my Job Bank. You just need to subscribe to my service. Here’s how to do it.”

Avoid Loaded Questions

I recently read a book entitled, Stop Talking, Start Communicating, by Geoffrey Tumlin. (I also interviewed him on my Smart Talk podcast.) In his book, Tumlin warns that we should stay away from ”loaded” questions.

These type of questions are really just a lightly-veiled form of criticism. For example, asking, “Is that what you normally do?,” suggests something is wrong with the way someone is choosing to handle a task.  Similarly, you should also avoid rhetorical questions, such as, "Is that the best you can do?" These questions are simply mean-spirited and not helpful.

Don’t make the mistake Kelly Blazek made. She didn’t just do this once either--at least three people came forward with similar responses from her. Not only has she had to apologize multiple times, she shut down her popular listserv, deleted her blog, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts, and had to give back the “Cleveland Communicator of the Year” award she’d just won.

No matter how upset you may be with an email, a rash response is not worth the repercussions that might come with it.. So the next time you get a nasty email, the first thing you should do is...read this article again!   

This is Lisa B. Marshall, Helping you maximize sales, manage perceptions, and enhance leadership through keynotes, workshops, books, and online courses. Passionate about communication; your success is my business. If you want even more success in your life, I invite you to listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk:  Inspiring Conversations with Exceptional People.

Photos of woman with phone, Oops key, and woman on laptop courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.