Saturday, May 11, 2013

E-Etiquette - Minding Your Email Manners

E-mail has been called "the kudzu of communications." In no time at all, it can overwhelm your mailbox and eat up your productive work time. Technology and the click culture have created speed and ease in communications, and even a special shorthand: "R U cming 2nite?" But the fallout is a sense of impersonality that breeds rudeness. You've got to think twice - even three times! - about your business emails, because they make statements about your professionalism.

Here are some guidelines for some common e-pet peeves that could make your e-mail more productive, professional, and a pleasure to read.

Always include a specific subject line. This is helpful not only for your receiver to know what your message is about, but it also makes it easy to search for that particular message later. 

Be brief, but personable. One of the problems with email is that senders tend to write "off the cuff," exactly what they're thinking: "Your report is due today and I haven't received it." This succinctness can come across as curt and rude. You could spend a little more time with it and make it warmer and friendlier: "As you know, Tom, your report is due today. Will you have it to me by the end of the day? If you're having any problems with it, please let me know how I can help you."

Give your response some context when replying to an e-mail, especially if some time has passed since you initially received it. A response that has absolutely no context to it - "Yes." or "That's a great idea." -- can be confounding when I, the original sender, have long forgotten the original question because I've since dealt with dozens or even hundreds of other e-mails. It can waste a lot of my time as I research my Sent messages to find out the issue you're referring to. So copy the sender's text that's relevant and reply below it.

Think through "reply to all." When you receive a group distribution e-mail and a reply is called for, think carefully about whether you should reply just to the sender or "reply to all." If your response is truly designed for just the sender, please don't add to other people's e-mail boxes with a "reply to all." On the other hand, if your response is relevant to all the others on the distribution, please don't reply just to the sender, forcing him to then have to forward your response back to the rest of the group.

Treat your message like a mini letter. Use the recipient's name, and end with yours.

Include a signature tag. This is particularly helpful for messages that go outside your company. Include at least your name and phone number(s), if not also your address, so you make it easy for someone to contact you in ways other than e-mail.

Use emoticons - the symbols that convey a happy face :-), frowning face :-(, laughter :-0, winking ;-), etc. - sparingly. They can be helpful to insure that humor or sarcasm is not interpreted as criticism, but you want to avoid being "cutesy."

Never send a message you wouldn't want made public. E-mail is not private. Whether it's deliberate or not, forwarding a message is as easy as a click of a button, so be careful what you say in cyberspace.

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