By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
Not knowing subtle email don’ts can cause us more headaches than we can imagine. We want the recipients of our emails to open, read, and take action on them. After all, we took time and effort to send them; we don’t want our efforts to have been a waste. But sometimes we simply are unaware of email don’ts that get in the way of our message.
Sometimes, our emails are not responded to because, people being, well, people, can be lazy (myself included) when it comes to dealing with their inbox. Other times, it’s because the way in which we wrote our email, unknown to us, contained an email don’t that got in the way of our message and caused the recipient to misunderstand our intent, tone, or the question we were asking.
It’s frustrating, isn’t it?
But there’s hope! Lots of it!
There’s a way to build your email writing reputation to the point that people will happily open your emails first. They’ll even respond to them! Our price of admission for earning that reputation is to know the best practices for writing emails.
We covered the Top 16 Email Do’s. If you haven’t had a chance to read the post, now’s a perfect time to check it out, because they are the “yin” to this post’s “yang”! Knowing the do’s lays the foundation for writing clear, concise, well-received emails.
The don’ts build upon that foundation and are subtle and easily missed in a rush to get our emails typed and sent on their way so we can get to the next thing on our to-do list. However, it’s the subtle differences that often have the biggest impact. If we’re unaware of the email don’ts, we can accidentally get in the way of our own message.
This is especially true because of what I explain as the DNA Effect of Emails.
Those reading your emails can’t see your smile or the “I’m just kidding with you!” twinkle in your eye. They can’t hear the tone of your voice to tell if you’re neutral, angry, or happy. Everything has to come through the words you choose, and to be honest, who takes the time to write an email like they were trying to write a best-selling novel? We don’t spend ten minutes trying to pick the perfect word. If we did, we’d get about two emails a day written and leave an inbox full of unanswered ones.
With that in mind, let’s jump into the fun stuff! Here’s what you want to avoid when writing emails so that you earn the reputation of knowing what you want to say and saying it in a gracious way that limits misunderstanding and invites camaraderie.
10 Email Don’ts That Get in the Way of Your Message
Note: The following are in no particular order. Many of them apply equally to business and personal emails.
1. Don’t assume friendship first; start with a little formality. Sometimes in an attempt to not come off as pretentious, we can go too far and come off as not professional.
Just like you wouldn’t assume you were good friends with someone after your first meet-up over coffee, don’t assume that your first email or two in a business relationship has bonded the two of you as bosom buddies.
If you’re going to err, err on the side of formality — not by being formal in an old-fashioned way, just by remembering you’re writing to someone who doesn’t know you. It’s better to let the person think that you’re professional to a tee rather than casual about the product or service you provide.
2. Don’t forget to ask before sending a big attachment. A lot of people work from home full- or part-time. They might not always be tied to their company’s big server. Before sending an attachment of more than 500KB, ask permission. Also ask the person if there’s a best day and time for you to send the attachment.
3. Don’t forget to list how many attachments you’re sending in the subject line of the email. Attachments, depending on your email provider, are easy to overlook. My computer puts them at the bottom of my original email to the person. (I know, that’s odd, isn’t it?) So, if they don’t tell me they’ve attached something to our email chain, there’s no way that I’m going to know it’s there.
Also, list the number of attachments, in case one or more of them don’t go through. That way, the recipient(s) will immediately know they didn’t receive all your information and can ask you to resend it. Your subject line for an email containing attachments could be something like this:
“Maralee McKee: Agenda and Other Details for Thursday’s Meeting in Atlanta (Three attachments)”
4. Don’t expect an immediate answer to your immediate question. People who get a lot done don’t tend to check email more than twice a day.
When they do check it, they deal with the most urgent emails and the ones that match up to their priorities of the day before responding to other emails.
If something is important, call or text. The latest statistics from an AT&T poll show that six out of seven times, calls go to voice mail. So leave a voice mail briefly explaining the situation and asking them to check their inbox for the details. Remember to say/text the name of your email subject line so it will pop out at them in case they forget.
If you haven’t heard back in 48 business hours, it’s usually fine to send a follow-up email.
5. Don’t confuse a text with an email. An email is by nature a bit more formal than a text because emails have all but replaced the old version of letters printed out on company letterhead or handwritten on personal stationery and sent via standard mail. Unless you’re writing to close friends or family, don’t use text lingo or shortcuts in spelling.
6. Don’t use emoticons if you’re too old to be in high school. Just like with text lingo, emoticons shouldn’t appear in an email unless it’s going to a close friend or relative. In a professional environment, words are best used to express your feelings.
Instead of emoticons, write out the word or statement that the emoticon you would have chosen was meant to express. This will avoid any misunderstanding of your tone. Here’s an example: “I’m so happy we completed the third-quarter statement reviews. By the third week I was beginning to think we’d be at them so long I would miss my wedding next July. (An overstatement, but it did cross my mind at one point!)“
7. Please don’t “Reply all”! 99 percent of the time, no one needs to reply to all. Reply only to the person who needs your answer. That’s usually just the person who asked you the question via email. Some folks think they’re doing a favor by keeping everyone in the loop about their participation. And some people think they’re setting a good example by showing everyone how quickly they replied to the email. The thing is, the other recipients on that email list usually don’t think of it in these ways. What they’re thinking is, “Why does Jack fill up my inbox with every email he sends to everyone. Ugh!”
8. Don’t forward things no matter how Earth-shatteringly wonderful they are! Some people, I guess, enjoy looking at emails with subject lines like “100 Precious Puppy Pics!” But not most people.
Even if you’ve come across a fantastic newsletter, article, Bible Study — whatever it is, don’t send it without asking yourself this question first: “Is this so good that I’d print it out, put it in an envelope, address the envelope, put a stamp on it, and send it via standard mail to the person?” If your answer is yes, then go ahead and email it with a quick note letting the person(s) know why you thought of them.
Let’s say you came across a biking newsletter you think your friend Jack would enjoy. Your email could read something like this: “Hello, Jack! I thought of you today when I received an email newsletter from a company that hosts biking tours. I know you like to bike, and the newsletter is full of articles on places nearby to ride, gear recommendations, and a lot more. I’ve forwarded this one to you. I hope you’re doing well this Wednesday!”
Grace Note: How do you get people to stop forwarding you what you consider junk? This is always a hard one because obviously the senders find value in what they’re sending, so if you say something about it, you’re admitting that you find no value in something that’s meaningful (if only for its cuteness factor) to them.
Since it only takes a nano-second to press the delete key, I usually do that and forget about it.
If the opportunity ever presents itself in conversation, you can mention that you only open emails that deal with work and a few blogs and other things that you read. They’ll probably take the hint.
However, if the other person asks whether you saw such-and-such email they sent you, or if it’s getting out of hand, I’ve used the following script myself: “Aunt Bridget, I know you receive all kinds of funny and inspirational quotes and other things via email. I know you forward your favorites to people you consider special, and I’m glad I’m one of those people. However, the time I’m able to spend on email is so limited that I tend to delete them. Please don’t think it’s just you; I delete almost everything I receive that doesn’t have something to do with work/homeschooling/my blog/my volunteer activities/the kid’s school…If you wouldn’t mind taking me off your list, that would help me get through my inbox and on to the next thing in my day faster.”
But, be warned, Aunt Bridget might think that you’re crazy and rude for not liking the “wonderful” things she so nicely thinks to send you. Consider your relationship and proceed with caution.
9. Don’t write when you’re angry, because your email is going to be alive forever. When you write an email, it lasts forever. In the old days of handwritten letters, the note you wish you hadn’t written, if you could get it back, could be burned in your fireplace, placed through a shredder, or torn into a hundred pieces. Not with an email.
Even when it’s deleted, it’s on a server somewhere. And minutes or years later, that email can haunt you. It can be forwarded to your entire professional network, and it can be copied and pasted onto every social media channel. With a few clicks of the keyboard, thousands of people could be reading something that shows you at your worst.
Let the person know you need time to calm down and gather your thoughts, and that you’ll write back to them in 48 or 72 hours. You always want to write from a place of perspective, and those two or three days will give you the time to express yourself with honesty minus the venom of deep anger.
10. Don’t let email be your only channel for announcing last-minute (within 24 hours) meetings, to-dos, schedule changes, or major family announcements. An email sent at 4:00 PM announcing that tomorrow’s 8:00 AM staff meeting is cancelled, or a 9:30 AM email that you’re going to have a lunch-time department meeting today, is guaranteeing that some recipients won’t have seen the message or that they’ll see it too late for their comfort.
When something pops up, or changes are made within 24 hours, you should, along with emailing, also: call, text, get up from your desk and go tell the person, post a notice in the break room, the bathroom, by the door of the building — whatever it takes to make it easy for people to get the message.
Grace Note: Family announcements like births, miscarriages, hospitalizations, deaths and anything else that’s urgent or life-changing should be made to family members via a phone call. One person doesn’t have to make all the calls. Have two or three people help. After close relatives and friends have been notified, a general email or Facebook post can go out. However, no one should find out that Grandpa has died, or that they’ve become an aunt or uncle, via an email or social media post (unless family members have made prior arrangements to notify one another this way).
If bad news strikes without warning, you can send a text that reads, “Jill, it’s Alexia. There’s been a 911 situation. Call me ASAP.” You’ve alerted her that there is bad news, which in an odd way is good because she’s preparing herself to receive bad news, whether she realizes it or not. It’s still bad, but at least she’s not been caught off guard 100 percent.
Email Isn’t Going Away, So It’s Good to Know How to Send Your Best!
The proof is in the numbers. Even with the billion-plus texts sent each day, business emails increased seven percent last year, and personal emails only dropped three percent.
In fact, there are so many emails being sent that if we were given just a penny per word for all the words typed in a day, we’d be millionaires within hours.
That’s a lot of typing going on.
However, we want our emails to be more than just words in the recipient’s in-box. We want people to read, understand, and be moved to action by our emails. And we want people to understand us for who we are through our words, not who they think we are because of what they read into our words.
By following these 10 Email Don’ts and the 16 Email Do’s, you’ll be using the gold standard of electronic communication and earning yourself the deserved reputation of putting people first in everything you do. That’s a great asset in a boss, associate, coworker, friend, or family member!
If you’re not already a member of the Manners Mentor family, why not become one right now?! Please join me! Simply subscribe to my newsletter, which contains a letter from me, the current post, and a few other great resources for knowing the gold standard for living out the Golden Rule and growing in graciousness. Simply type your name and best email address in the subscription box below this email.
Until next time, have a blessed week, and keep giving the world the gift that you were born to give, you….at your best!!!!!