Wednesday, March 25, 2015

PSA: 9 Email Etiquette Tips for the 21st Century

With nearing 2 decades of email experience in a variety of sectors, I would like to offer these rules to live by:

1) Email should avoid subjects of an emotional nature (unless you are writing your grandma about the arrival of your new baby...but seriously, she'd rather have you call or bring the baby over to her house). Regardless of writing personal or work related emails, do not use email to share strong opinions, feelings, dislikes, or to express frustration. Please extend the recipient of such conversations their due dignity by inviting them to a personal  meeting or if a meeting is not possible due to travel, a phone call.

2) Stick to questions and statements related to facts, scheduling, and agendas. If you want to know if Tom can meet next Tuesday at 2PM, send an email. If you want to know if Tom would rather meet for Italian or Chinese, send an email. If you want to know if Tom likes his job, do not send an email. If you want to know why your first cousin skipped your daughter's bat mitzvah, do not send an email. (See #1 for more details.)

3) Always include a subject that gives the reader a decent insight into the message's content.

4) Note that bolded text (except when used for formatting purposes), ALL-CAPS expressions, and exclamation points come across as angry screaming to the recipient!!!! Avoid or use with caution. Since you aren't dealing in the realm of emotions or opinions (see #1), much of these kinds of expressions will not be needed in your email.

5) Be brief. Admittedly, I have learned  over the years that my brevity has come across as rudeness on various occasions. So, be careful not to be so brief that you sound curt or terse. Still, with the amount of email we all deal with, the more direct you are about the subject matter, the more time we save for one another.

6) Only request one to two actions. Try not to send your boss, coworker, or spouse an email asking them to answer 5 questions, commit to pull off 5 tasks, and submit 4 different reports by morning. Stick with 1-2 questions with 1-2 responses. If you have a variety or questions or requests, you might need to ask for 10-15 minutes of their time for a conversation. Or just send multiple emails (see #9's cautions on sending more emails).

7) Do not send work email outside of work hours or expect others to reply. Since many people get their work email on their phones, at home, or wherever they might be, try to only send email between 7:30AM and 5:30PM (or whatever are your company's work hours). There are many free pieces of software that allow you to schedule an email's arrival. So even if you are working and sending email at 1AM in your superhero pajamas, your coworkers don't need to read the email till after their first cup of coffee. If you really need to know something from a coworker after work hours, call them on the phone.

8) When in doubt, don't send the email. If you wonder if the email might not be appropriate, don't send it. If you debate whether your boss will appreciate a forwarded message, skip it entirely (for that matter, skip most forwards entirely...we read that joke last year anyway).

9) Use email less and less. Its convenience has made it an inconvenience. Email has turned "water cooler conversations" into a thing of the past. Too little talking and too much typing has dehumanized our lives, workplaces, and friendships. So stop by your boss's office, stand up to ask a question to your cube-mate, and use your phone for it's original purpose (to talk with your voice, in case you've forgotten).

Do any of you have other tips or suggestions you've come to discern through your journey in the digital age?

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