I have a love/hate relationship with email.
On one hand, I love the emails I receive that:
- Clearly communicate their purpose
- Are concise
- Are formatted strategically
- Have subject lines that are aligned with the email body (for subject line tips, check out this previous blog post on the subject)
- Use proper grammar and punctuation
- Are sent ONLY to those who need to read them
On the other hand, I waste a lot of time and let loose with a lot of bad words when so much of the email I receive hurts communication rather than helps it.
To ensure your email achieves its #1 purpose, COMMUNICATION, start by avoiding these 9 critical email mistakes.
1. Leaving the subject line blank- Along with recipient information, most people use email subject lines to sort emails and prioritize them. If your subject line is blank, your email may very likely be deleted, or at minimum, will go to the bottom of the priority list. You must have a subject line and it must be attention grabbing and relevant to the email content.
2. Continuing to reply to a previous email when the subject has changed- Some people are too lazy to start a new email “chain” when they have a new subject to discuss. Instead, they just reply to a previous email. This becomes a problem when either party has to go back and identify which emails contained a certain topic. Additionally, you face the same sorting and prioritizing problems outlined in #1.
3. Treating email as a private conversation- Freedom of Information Act and open record request requirements aside, there’s nothing stopping any email recipient from forwarding or publicizing an email they’ve received. Having a confidentiality statement in your email may cover you legally, but doesn’t protect you from the fact that information you intended to be private has now become public. As the old saying goes, “You can’t unring a rung bell.”
4. Forwarding an email without permission- This tip goes hand-in-hand with #3 above. You should never forward an email without first asking the person who sent it to you in the first place. In a situation where it’s obvious that the sender wouldn’t want others to see his or her email, the decision should be easy, unless you have a broken moral compass. However, even if the email contains only positive information, it’s still not yours to share- it’s the original sender’s.
5. Sending an email when you’re angry or upset- It’s easy to be REALLY ugly when you’re not facing the recipient of your wrath. As a result, many people say things in emails they’d never say face-t0-face, and often face “Electronic Communication Regret” after hitting send. Wait until you cool off and then re-assess whether or not you want to send that email.
6. Completing the “TO” field first- Imagine your horror when you take my advice in #5 above and write an email with NO intention of actually sending it at all, or at least not until you’ve cooled off and re-read it, only to find that you accidentally hit SEND instead of SAVE? Even if your email isn’t an angry one, how many times have you accidentally hit SEND accidentally? If you leave the TO field blank, you never have to worry about accidentally sending an email again.
7. Not accounting for the missing nonverbal element of your message- When people receive an email, they don’t just read the words, they picture the face and body language of the person sending it. They hear the tone, rate, and volume of that person as well. Therefore, it’s important to read your email before sending it to see what nonverbal messages it might carry without you even intending it. Could it “sound” sarcastic, angry, or condescending? If so, you might consider re-wording or choosing another communication medium.
8. Not personalizing your message to the receiver- Although we live in the world of automated email campaigns, people still appreciate a personal touch- at least now and then. Therefore, try whenever possible to add elements to your communication that prove that a REAL person sent it, not a robot.
9. Using the medium as an excuse for sloppy writing- Far be it from me to say that all my email communication is perfect. However, when it’s not, I don’t have a disclaimer at the bottom blaming poor communication on the fact that I’m sending the email from my phone or tablet. Take the time to proof read your communication, especially business communication, before hitting send, no matter what you’re sending it from.
What other email mistakes drive you nuts? Comment now!
Amy Castro is a workplace communication expert, speaker, trainer, and writer of The Performance Communication Blog. She also authored the book, Practical Communication- 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.