Electronic communication is constantly changing. E-mail is great for fast and effective communication, but basic rules for communication and respect should still be kept in mind. While e-mail is certainly a more informal form of communication, here are some tips for effective and courteous e-mail communication.
1. Let it simmer.
Don't send an e-mail in haste when you are upset. If you are thinking of addressing a workplace problem via e-mail, give it a few days. Allow yourself some time to calm down and think things over. You can't take back that angry e-mail.
2. Your subject line is your first impression.
Be sure to include an informative and poignant subject line. Never send an e-mail with "no subject" in the subject line.
3. Grammar and word choice matter.
While spellcheck is a great tool, always read your e-mails over once or twice for grammar, spelling and word choice. E-mail is not an excuse for misspellings, grammatical errors, or punctual mistakes.
4. Be conscious of your voice.
Be aware of usage of all caps, emoticons, and text message abbreviation. Using all capital letters tends to convey to the reader that you are shouting at them and tends to be harder to read. Also be aware that in the absence of facial expressions or tone of voice, interpretation defaults to the negative.
5. Salutations, closing, and signature blocks.
While there is no doubt that e-mail is more informal than a typed letter, salutations and closings are still important. When composing e-mail to senior management always use a more formal greeting. When in doubt, defer to the formal. For example, use Mr. or Ms., hello versus hi, or Elizabeth versus Liz. When communicating with senior management you should also end the e-mail with a formal sign-off as well.
Businesses live and breathe by email. It's no longer uncommon to work regularly with people you've never met, with the interactions carried out entirely through calls and email.
Whether you think this is good or bad, it's here to stay, and how you compose an email speaks to your professionalism, reliability, and image, and it represents, by extension, your company or place of work.
Formality used to be a given in business correspondence, but no longer. Follow the same pattern in an email that you would face-to-face if your new client has been introduced to you as Brian, or if that is what the rest of the team calls him, you don't need to revert to Mr. Carson in a follow-up email. But the reverse also applies: until asked to call him Brian, stick with Mr. Carson. When in doubt, defer to the formal: use Mr. for men, Ms. for women. It's far easier to respond to, "Oh, call me Kara," than, "Actually, it's Ms. Pomerantz."
Hello and Goodbye.
Most emails are only a few lines at most, but the recipient is still worth a salutation and closing: "Dear" remains both standard and formal, "Hello" is professional and friendly, "Hi" is casual and conversational. Avoid "Hey"; it may sound jaunty to some, but to others it can read as a verbal jab. There are a multitude of options for closings. When in doubt "Sincerely" or "Regards" are both safe bets. Other variations on this theme include, "Best regards," "Kind regards," "Best wishes," "Sincere regards," "Thank you," and "Many thanks," to name just a few. More casually are, "Take care" and "Talk soon."
When an email chain deepens, it's fine to drop greetings, as the tone is now a back-and-forth conversation.
Tricks of the Trade.
To smiley or not to smiley, that is the question. Unless you are absolutely certain an emoticon will be received well, avoid using them. To unsympathetic eyes, or simply to someone who doesn't know you well, they look juvenile in business. The same applies to the use of abbreviations, such as "ttyl" ("talk to you later") and "lmk" ("let me know"). Shorthand isn't wrong; but it only serves you and your professionalism well if received well (or at least with notice), so consider your audience first. The use of all caps always denotes shouting, so unless you are shouting congratulations, get calm and pick up the phone or visit a colleague to discuss differences of opinion.
Signature blocks can be helpful, especially when they contain the basic alternate means of contact: mailing address, telephone, mobile or fax numbers, and perhaps a website. Signature blocks run the risk of becoming weighty anchors at the bottom of a message when they include too many promotional links, websites, or social networking invitations. Keep inspiration quotes for personal email accounts.
Quickly typed and sent in the blink of a nanosecond, it's understandable why emails can be rife with typos, from the commonplace to the funny to the mortifying. An advertisement aired during last month's Super Bowl that played on the panic of an employee who thought he had sent an inappropriate message to his whole company. Clearly, it would be best to do a read-through before sending, and not to rely too heavily on the spelling and grammar check features, as they can let you down in crucial moments. The attention paid to drafting a message says something beyond the words on the screen. It speaks to your professional image and your attention to detail.
Why Highlight a Negative?
A preset message stating, "Sent from my iPhone/BlackBerry, etc." is fine to use. But refrain from prefacing it with the recent variation, "Please excuse any mistakes in this message. It was sent from my iPhone/BlackBerry, etc." The very fact these devices are mobile means messages are often typed while we're on the dash, and small keyboards and anticipated text features, which can turn a run-of-the-mill email into a game of Madlibs, don't help. Still, why draw attention to the fact you didn't think the recipient was worth rereading the message for? Worse, if there weren't any mistakes, you've now implied that often there are -- and that you're not responsible for them, when in fact you are.
Lastly, there comes a time in every inbox when reply or forward won't suffice. If a conversation is going downhill fast, pick up the phone or set an in-person meeting. Research has shown we default to a negative interpretation of others' words when we don't have their tone of voice or body language to make their meaning clear.
Used well, email is a tremendous time-saver. But some things are worth spending time on. Handwritten thank you notes are still a must for gifts, big meals, and important opportunities or favours, and show you spent time reflecting on their value to you. That's a message worth sending.
Although technology is ever-changing, basic rules of etiquette still apply. Polite electronic communication requires that you treat others as you would have them treat you, even when interacting through the cold gray light of the computer screen. Follow our tips to help you communicate electronically, politely, and effectively.
Three Key Considerations:
- Human contact still matters - Don't communicate electronically at the expense of personal interaction. There's a reason people often need to discuss things face-to-face, and there are times when no substitute will do - whether you're breaking up with your boyfriend or asking your boss for a raise.
- Watch what you say, and how you say it - While the computer brings people together, its impersonal nature can lead to remarks that people wouldn't think of saying in person. Do whatever it takes to stay courteous, even in that means taping a note to your computer reminding you to be decent and polite.
- Be careful when clicking Send - Whatever you say in cyberspace cannot be taken back. You have no control over where your message goes once you've hit Send; it can be saved and forwarded by any recipient who chooses to do so, and words have come back to hurt people, destroy friendships, and ruin careers.
E-Mail Do's and Don'ts
- Addressing with care - When sending an e-mail to a long list of recipients, don't put all the addresses in the To and cc lines. Most people don't want their e-mail addresses displayed for all to see. It's better to send messages individually or use the blind-copy (BCC) feature, which allows you to show only one address.
- What's your subject? - Fill in the subject line, even in personal e-mail. The subject line should succinctly identify what you are writing about.
- No yelling, please - Avoid typing your message in capital letters because CAPS ARE THE EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING. Also beware of anger and frustration in the choice of words; the recipient will hear the anger and frustration in your writing.
- Watch those symbols - E-mail is singularly lacking in subtlety, and language that the sender may find funny or clever can easily be misunderstood by the recipient. If used, emotional symbols are better suited for casual messages between friends than for business e-mails. Likewise, be careful when using on-line abbreviations, since they'll leave some recipients scratching their heads.
- Salutations and Closings - Especially in business e-mails, it's important to have strong finish. To one, two, or three people, state each person's name in a salutation : Dear, Tom, Mary, and Jim. When addressing a larger group, you can use a common salutation. In the case of an e-mail reply, use a salutation in the first reply. After the first reply, it is no longer necessary to keep adding a salutation. Think of it as being in a conversation. You don't need to keep saying the person's name every time you reply. Similarly for closings, it's useful to information about yourself in case anyone might want to to know other ways to reach you. If your e-mail program does not automatically sign your message off with your name, address, e-mail address, and phone number, add it yourself. For a chain of reply e-mails, it is not necessary to include this information with every response.
- Check it over - Be sure messages are clearly organized and grammatically correct. Write in complete sentences and always check spelling and punctuation - especially in business e-mails.
President Bush had been doing it weekly to confer with his national security team. Even Wendy's International, the fast-food giant, has just announced a deal to equip eight locations. In the last six weeks companies have turned to video conferencing to strategize, sell, recruit, and react.
Nothing has made video conferencing seem more relevant to our daily business life than the combination of a national tragedy and a weakening economy. It saves money and time. It helps build relationships. It lets us share knowledge. It cuts down on air travel. But it can have its drawbacks, especially when those participating don't work from established ground rules. Like any other convergence of people and new technology, considering etiquette guidelines will make video conferencing a productive and enjoyable experience.
Adopt some etiquette guidelines.
Want your employees to embrace video conferencing? Then adopt and abide by some simple video conferencing etiquette guidelines. Failure to lay down some ground rules and educate people about them will likely lead to your expensive video conferencing equipment gathering dust in the back of the conference room. Here are the Emily Post Institute's tips on videoconferencing.
Test Equipment in advance. Have a contingency plan. Allow participants a brief "practice session" to familiarize them with the equipment and set-up. Run video conference sessions according to a well thought out agenda. Let participants know ahead of time what to expect and who will be present. Set clear objectives regarding what will be accomplished in the session and communicate them to participants.
Remind participants that they should dress as they would for an in person meeting.
Lights, camera, action!
Begin and end on time. Introduce all participants. Speak clearly and loudly. Make eye contact with the camera and with other participants in your room. Use names to direct questions to specific people. Consider using name plates. Don't speak over people or interrupt. Don't be too close to the camera. Avoid making excessive background noise, like rustling papers. Turn off beepers, watch alarms and cell phones. Don't leave the room unless absolutely necessary.
Convert the masses.
A 1997 study of Swedish companies found four key factors affect the successful integration video conferencing: The technology is embraced by upper management. People are most comfortable using video conferencing when the surroundings are similar to those of an in-person meeting. Familiarity with the equipment increases people's faith in the technology. One key person can motivate an entire corporation to use and enjoy video conferencing. To get your staff on board, point out to them the specific goals that video conferencing helped you accomplish. "We completed the budget forecasting 30 percent faster this year because of our use of videoconferencing, and we saved $3,500 in travel expenses."
The Emily Post Institute works with companies to develop etiquette guidelines for video conferencing and other new interactive technologies. For more information e-mail media(at)emilypost.com or call 802-860-1814.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when minding your email manners:
1. Always Respond
Junk mail and forwards are one thing, but you should always respond to a real message, whether it's to invite you to a meeting or a hello from an old friend.
2. What's the Story?
Don't keep your readers in suspense, use the Subject line to alert the receiver to the subject matter of your message. You're likely to get a faster response.
3. Addresses Ad-nauseum
When sending out an e-mail to a long list of recipients, consider using an address book function that doesn't list all recipients in the "to" header. Having to scroll past a long list of addresses to get to the message itself is annoying to many. Plus, many people may not like having their e-mail address displayed to others.
4. Rapid Fire Responses
If you only check your e-mail once a week, let people know. Otherwise, they may take offense at not receiving a timely (which when it comes to e-mail can mean immediate) response from you.
5. Watch Your Language
While our e-mail culture is full of its own shorthand, it's best to always reread your messages before sending to make sure there are no grammatical or spelling errors in your message.
6. Know Your Role
If you're sending out e-mail that is religious, political or pornographic, be sure to know that your intended recipient wants to receive it. In many business settings, transferring pornographic materials via e-mail is grounds for dismissal.
7. Avoid Spam
When you surf or shop retail sites on the Internet, watch out for the "free newsletter" and "customer update" e-mail check boxes. If you sign up, you will be receiving regular e-mail that may not interest you.
8. Keep it Professional
At work, keep all personal information out of e-mail. This isn't the venue for dissing coworkers or spilling the beans about your weekend adventures with the copier man.
9. Selectively Select
"Send to All." Only the most relevant work-related messages should be sent to "all" recipients. Private messages, or messages that only apply to a few recipients should never be sent this way.
10. Address Updates
If you are leaving your job, be sure that your e-mail account is closed and that incoming messages get forwarded to the appropriate person. Also, be sure to let everyone know your new e-mail address.