Email has completely changed the way we communicate. It also created a ton of room for faux pas. Modern Manners Guy's new book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career is inspired by the worst email snafu of all. Click to learn how to avoid a reply all fiasco and other bad email manners.
This is the easiest (and most logical) way to ensure your message is sent correctly. When you write a quick email, it’s usually short, so taking a whopping 5 extra seconds to re-read it and check that the To line contains the names you want before you send will not be the end of the world. What could be the end of your world is if you tell your boss that the meeting with the potential new client is on Thursday at 3:30 - when in fact it's on Tuesday at 3:30 and you simply typed the wrong day because you were rushing. How do you think that will go over if your boss doesn't show up to the client meeting and you lose the deal? I will give you one guess.
Tip #2: Watch Your Tone
The tone of your email says a lot about how you present yourself to others. In my book, Reply All, I talk about people who have “Keyboard Muscles.” These are folks who become powerful (and usually nasty) the moment they sit behind a computer. This is terrible! Sadly, we all know this type of person – he or she is the one who emails snarky comments like, “Great idea, Steve…And by great, I mean my 4-year-old could think of a better idea. You’re useless!” This is a form of bullying. Regardless of the intended goal of the email, its tone is what the recipient will remember.
Sometimes when we’re typing an email, we tend to assume that everyone will get our sense of humor, no matter how morbid, sarcastic, or bizarre. But when it comes to email, it’s key to remember the wise Thumper’s rule: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” So if you think your sense of humor is going to offend someone, chances are it probably will. Not to mention the fact that email doesn't come with gesture, intonation, and facial features - all of which would help someone realize that you're kidding, rather than just being a jerk.
Having a professional email tone is an easy way to get ahead and earn respect at work. Email is a great way to show your expertise without the pressure of public speaking. Even if you want to vomit at the thought of talking to others in public, being able to construct a fantastic email with the proper tone lets you come across as a true professional. They say, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Well, nowadays, it’s the digital pen that's mightier.
Tip #3: Avoid Familiarity
Many of us experience the majority of our daily communication in email. So we've gotten pretty comfortable with it, which has caused us to loosen up...and that's when the trouble starts. For example, say you meet a new client and after a few pleasant email exchanges, you begin to become more comfortable with them. Feeling like you’re now buddies, you start to use more casual language. “What’s up Bob? How'd you do at the bar last night?” If you were face to face, or even on the phone, you wouldn’t be so friendly (especially if the person was a bigwig). So why allow such familiarity on email? You may think you're being funny or charming, but the recipient will see it as immature.
In any professional (or even social) situation, it’s never a good idea to assume that everyone “gets you” right off the bat. I’m guilty of this myself. Since I'm an extrovert, I tend to be pretty comfortable talking to most people. However, lowering your guard on email, before the other person is willing or expecting you to, is a big mistake. When you send an innocent joke, or use more casual language the person on the other end may think you aren’t serious. They could interpret your tone as goofy, insincere, or even uneducated.
When in doubt, always err on the side of caution. Assume the person doesn’t share your sense of humor or isn't prepared to be quite so friendly just yet. This doesn’t mean you have to be dull or boring. This means you have to be patient, pay attention to their responses, and follow their lead. Once there’s something you feel like you’re connecting on, you can shift to a more informal manner.
I delve a lot more into the best ways to navigate email etiquette and other aspects of the professional world in my new book Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career. It's available for now as a paperback, ebook, and even as an audiobook, read by me!
Do you have a great story about how handle email etiquette? Post all the details in the comment section. As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.