By now, I’m going to assume that you’re well-versed in the email etiquette basics. You know, things like always including a subject line and resisting the temptation to CC every single warm body in your office. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here. Still, it’s likely your messages aren’t completely flawless.
There are a few email sins that aren’t as oft-repeated but are still just as cringeworthy. And you might be guilty of committing them whether you’re aware of it or not–and that could be the reason why people aren’t exactly rushing to respond to you. Here are a few of those faux-pas and what it takes to fix them.
1. Playing “Hot Potato”
You pride yourself on being totally on top of your inbox–incoming messages never go long without a reply from you.
It’s great that you’re committed to being so responsive. But it’s important that you also consider the quality of what you’re sending. Are your replies actually pushing the conversation forward? Or are you firing off short (and perhaps even totally useless) messages in an effort to put the ball in the other person’s court and get yourself one step closer to that elusive inbox zero?
Oftentimes people find that they’re falling into that latter category. Unfortunately, that frantic game of email hot potato is completely counterproductive.
How to improve: I know the pressure to get back to people can be high, and I’m not trying to tell you to let messages linger unanswered. Instead, if you’re not at a point where you can provide a high-quality response, send a short note stating that you’re looking into it and will get back with a more detailed answer as soon as you have it.
That step eliminates the pressure of needing to respond instantly, while still giving you time to devote adequate consideration to that message.
2. Showcasing Your Sense Of Humor
Nobody wants to sound like a lifeless robot over email. And trust me, I definitely appreciate those punny and off-the-wall notes that arrive in my inbox. However, there’s no guarantee that other recipients will feel the same way. You need to remember that written messages lack the nonverbal and other context cues that typically help your humor to land.
So it’s important to know your audience before peppering your email with what I’m sure is your stellar sense of humor. I’d be delighted with that great GIF of a dog in a party hat. Your board members? Maybe not so much. Plus, nothing kills all sense of seriousness and urgency like an off-topic joke. If you want a quick response, hold off on the punchlines.
How to improve: Again, understanding your recipient is crucial here. But if you feel even an inkling of doubt about how your funny joke or remark will be received, delete it. You’re better off safe than sorry, and you can still be friendly and personable in your email–without the standup routine.
3. Rambling On And On
I know that this can seem like a fine line to walk. You hear so much chatter about those dreaded meetings that could’ve happened over email that it’s easy to feel pressured to avoid sit-downs at all costs.
But this attempt to skip all face-to-face contact often results in some long-winded emails. Before you know it, you’ve cranked out a 3,000-word masterpiece that dives into ever single detail of that upcoming sales presentation. Spoiler alert: Nobody is going to read it. And those who do will have to spend more time sifting through all that information before crafting a response–which they’re likely to put off for as long as humanly possible.
How to improve: Sometimes longer messages are unavoidable. In those cases, things like bullet points, short paragraphs, and subheads can help keep things organized and easy to digest.
But considering that the ideal length is somewhere between 50 and 125 words, anything longer than that might warrant a meeting or a phone call.
4. Writing Something You Wouldn’t Want Anybody Else To See
There’s a false sense of privacy that comes along with your inbox. You assume that the intended recipient will be the only one to see that snarky comment about your boss.
Listen very carefully: Not only is that rude, but it’s risky business. Whether it’s an eventual tech problem, a snoopy HR department, or even a gossipy coworker, chances are good that your not-so-friendly remarks will eventually make it into the wrong hands or in front of the wrong eyeballs.
How to improve: This one you just need to stop cold turkey. If you’re tempted to type something slightly off-color (even jokingly!) in your message, ask yourself this: What would your reaction be if somebody (such as your boss or another colleague) saw that comment? The recipient might feel just as uncomfortable with that thought as you should, and waffle on how and whether to respond. So if you get the slightest bit anxious about hitting “send,” it’s time to tap the backspace key instead.
5. Being Married To Your Inbox
Alright, this last mistake doesn’t actually have anything to do with the content of the messages you’re sending. But it’s still an important one to be aware of.
Again, wanting to actively manage your inbox is a great quality (all of those people with thousands of unread emails just hanging out are jealous of your commitment, I’m sure!). However, that doesn’t give you a free pass to keep your eyes glued to your phone in the middle of dinner, a meeting, a vacation, or a wedding (yes, I’ve seen it happen).
Not only is your compulsive inbox-refreshing forcing you to miss out on real conversations and experiences, but it’s also really inconsiderate to the people you’re spending time with–which makes them feel irritated, and less likely to get back to you on time.
How to improve: The answer here is simple: Put your phone away. I know, it seems impossible. But as I learned in this experiment, it’s more than worth it.
Here’s the good news: All of these faux pas are things that you can resolve, provided you’re willing to learn and change your habits. You’re not destined for a life of being a total email screw-up whom everybody procrastinates on getting back to. Implement that advice (and, while you’re at it, brush up on these email etiquette basics!), and you’ll be well on your way to stepping up your email game another notch.