Many people don't even realize they are handling email in an offensive manner. Follow these tips to keep people happy on the other end.
Most people have developed their own email habits over the last decade or so. With little guidance, it's no wonder that etiquette is all over the place. Yet somehow people just expect that everyone else knows what to do, and are then surprised when someone else's behavior offends them. Ironically, they probably offend other people as well, without even realizing it.
I think it's best to assume that the mistakes most people make are due to ignorance, not intent. So here is a list of clarifications for better email behavior. You may want to tack on a tip or two of your own and email this list to a few offending friends. Then, at least, they will have no excuse left for their email faux pas.
1. Respond quickly. Even when you don't know the answer.
I recently emailed a close friend to see if he would be home during an upcoming visit to his city. My booking of flights depended upon his availability. It took him a long while to respond. After I sent him an urgent message, he let me know that he was waiting to figure it out before he responded. All the while, I was left waiting with no knowledge of whether or not he even got the email. A simple response from him saying he will check and let me know in a day or two, at least, would have set reasonable expectations.
2. Change the subject line when the subject changes.
The new grouping systems bundle by subject line. If you carry on a 30-email conversation covering three subjects you create difficulty in searching them later and make it hard for other parties to remember what the email conversation is now about.
3. Read the subject line.
I often put simple key information in the subject line, like date or time references. It makes it easier for someone on mobile to gauge the importance of the email. But I hate getting an email back that says: "Great! When do you want to meet?" when the day and date are clearly stated in the subject.
4. Read more than the first sentence of the email.
I know certain people to whom I have to send a different email for every question because they simply don't read beyond the first sentence. Mobile summaries are partly to blame for this. But really, there are no excuses. People can't guess your reading habits. Take a few extra seconds to be thorough.
5. Address all concerns in the email.
It doesn't take much time to bullet point or number your responses to a multisubject email. It does take time to chase people for additional responses when only the first point has been addressed. Slow down and respond to each issue or you will waste everyone's time, including your own.
6. Make emails brief and to the point.
Of course the reason numbers 4 and 5 happen is because some people write super long emails with a dozen subjects to be addressed. This is just bad communication practice. Don't use email when you really need a conversation or meeting. Set an appointment or meeting and get your issues addressed. Then you can follow up with email as a record or check in.
7. Move appropriate people to Bcc.
I often make introductions and connect people. I really don't need to be copied on the their email exchange while they make their appointment. If someone is finished in the conversation, move them to Bcc so they can drop out. Just say: "Thanks Kevin, (Now Bcc.)", then continue the conversation. I now know my business is done and won't be bothered by the calendar dance.
8. Do not respond when you are Bcc.
I will Bcc partners and support when I don't want them in the conversation but I want them to have the information. I don't do it a lot because I believe most email conversations should remain private. But I scream when someone is Bcc and they respond to the whole group. They were not invited to the conversation. Their participation is an intrusion that can offend and embarrass the involved parties.
9. Take attachments out of your signature.
As a marketer, I believe a signature is a valuable tool. I appreciate knowing more about people with a single click. But attachments like jpgs clog the system and make it harder to sort. Use simple text and hyperlinks. Then I can easily access your website or video, etc. And by all means, please keep it short. Especially if you insist on attaching it to every response.
10. Copy only people who care.
Email is not a party or coffee room. It's a communication tool. You don't need to invite everyone over for the fun. More than four or five in an email conversation can get unruly. And if you are sending large group emails, Bcc the list so people retain their email address privacy and the chatterers don't irritate the workers with a conversation including everyone.
11. Close the loop.
The biggest irritation for most people in business isn't too much email or spam. Filters and summaries help solve that problem. The most hated issue is unanswered email. Show respect to the people with whom you communicate by letting them know you got their email and their disposition. You can simply say: "Got it" or "Working on it." That way they don't wonder if it went to spam or if you hate them now and are purposely ignoring them. Remember, many people automatically assume the worst. Of course, if you want to be truly respectful, set some reasonable expectations to resolve their query.