Email communication is a major aspect of doing business these days and, in fact, our daily lives. Here are 15 practical tips around email communication which is appropriate not only for business but often for personal emails as well.
1. Have a clear subject field.
An email with the subject ‘Hi’ or ‘Stuff’ is vague at best. Be clear what the email is about in a few words. If the email covers a few things, even put that in the title, ie Newsletter / Marketing Plan / Blogs.
2. Have a professional and appropriate salutation.
When it comes to business, it’s rarely suitable to start an email with “Howdy” or “Hiya” or “G’day”. If you know someone well, then “Hi” might be ok, otherwise “Hello” or “Good Morning”. If it’s quite formal, then “Dear” may be more appropriate. It’s always nice to include a person’s name either in the salutation or first line. Remember though, use their correct first name; unless you know them well enough to shorten their name, then please don’t. Naturally, be sure to spell their names correctly, especially if the spelling is a little unusual.
3. Never depart bad news via email.
You should never reprimand anyone via email and never give someone bad news via email. Pick up the phone and talk to them or even do it face to face. This is somewhat akin to the philosophy you should not break up a relationship via email or ‘on a post it’. Hand in hand with this goes the concept of never emailing to someone when you are angry. If you must write (to vent/release) then send the reply to yourself. Read it the next day and then review if that response would actually be appropriate now that you have hopefully cooled down.
4. Make sense.
Ensure that the email makes sense stand alone. I sometimes get emails where I am lost as to what the person wants from me, or really what they are saying. If it’s a trail of conversations, at least make sure each one makes sense. For example, not just saying “Yes, let’s do that”. Instead “Yes, let’s proceed with that marketing plan you’ve outlined below”.
5. Watch phrases (or jokes) which can have multiple meanings.
Saying “Good luck with that” would be taken in many ways. Instead, it might be “I hope that goes really well for you”. There is a sentence “I didn’t know she stole money” and when you put the emphasis on each word, it gives the sentence a whole new meaning. That can happen a lot in email as we are unable to rely on tone or body language.
6. Email length.
If the email is going to be more than a couple of short paragraphs, then perhaps it’s better to pick up the phone, talk and then if need be, confirm details via return email in brief dot points – if you are needing a written record. Long emails have a way of being avoided because we are busy, or if there is too much in there, particularly questions, not everything gets answered. Too long and you are spending time and the person may avoid reading because it’s long.
7. Don’t be too brief.
The other side of the coin is being brief and forgetting some of the niceties. Opening sentences like “Hi Jane, I hope you had a good weekend.” or “Hello Peter, I hope this finds you well.” I know myself, I just want to get to the crux of the email, but let’s not be too blunt. If you are being thankful, then more than a single word “thanks” might be appropriate.
8. Save important emails.
When you have provided advice or had an important conversation it may be appropriate for you to keep a PDF or copy of that email on file or record. Emails are a legal form of communication and I understand that often our email folders can jam up, so have a plan for keeping the important ones.
9. Reply to all emails in a timely manner.
I know this one is hard. Firstly, when I say “all” I do not mean spam emails. But let’s image a client has emailed you asking for something to be done. This task can’t be done immediately or today and will take some time. Send that person a response telling them you got their email, you are on it and expect to have an answer/result/item within a few days. However, like with any promise, be sure it happens.
10. Keep it professional.
I love smiley faces because it shows expression but I realise it’s not professional. The same goes with exclamation marks – one is enough and not after every single sentence!!!!! It is also very poor form to type in capitals – in the world of emails you are SHOUTING AT SOMEONE WHEN YOU USE ALL CAPITALS!!!!! Yes, I just gave you a great example of two things to not do.
11. BCC or CC.
If you are sending to a large group then BCC is the way to go. You are being confidential and not giving everyone else in the group the email address of everyone you are emailing. If you are sending to a small group, it may be appropriate to CC them all so they know who is in the discussion. Emphasis here is small group. To explain, a BCC (blind carbon copy) means that only you know who received the item. A CC (carbon copy) means that everyone can see who else got the item and can communicate with that person.
12. Reply all.
If someone sends an email out to a large group and erroneously CC’d everyone, then even worse is when some people click on “Reply All”. It means every single person got your response. For a start, this is potentially wasting every one of those people’s time and clogging up their email boxes. Do not get into the habit of “reply all” every time, but only where your response should be seen by all parties. Think before you click on that button.
13. Email Signature.
In business, it’s great to have an email signature. Ensure it is professional, suitably branded and has your contact details in it, especially phone number to call and website to check you out. Remember, an email signature can be used for more than saying who you are – you may also promote some of your services, or in my case, I have mention of my upcoming book to be released.
14. Be confidential.
If you receive news or an email which is not for you, or even is for you, be conscious of how appropriate it would be to share it with others. If you know it’s not appropriate to share, then please resist the urge to do so or gossip.
15. Finally, be sure to proofread or re-read your email.
If your email is to go out to a large number, have someone else proofread it as we often don’t spot our own mistakes. If it’s just going to a small number of people or a single person, please still proofread it. Whilst you might not spot everything, you will hopefully pick up anything major. Silly spelling mistakes reflect on us and how we are perceived. Most email programs have spell check so watch for those red lines under words and ensure you correct before you send.
I hope these tips have been useful and if you know you have some bad habits, work on them. Rather than saying “I am bad at email etiquette” instead change that around and start working on any weaknesses, so that soon you’ll be able to say “I’m great at email communication”. Make a spectacular day!