Nothing made a more profound impact on business communications than email, and nothing probably ever will; well, unless telepathy is adopted by the corporate world, and that is probably not going to happen during my time. So it’s not surprise that there are 100s of books and web sources covering email etiquette, rules, techniques, tips, tricks and traps. Yet, I see again and again the lack of attention to email rules and etiquette ruins business relationships, creates communication problems, and dramatically affects project communications.
Email rules and etiquette is a general issue. I see it as a local challenge and go through communication training with my in-house teams (even though it seems kind of weird coming from someone for whom English is a second language and still work in progress). The importance of email is 10 times higher when it comes to outsourcing. It is impossible to overstate its significance, especially for vendors / providers. Given that a good portion of my audience is outsourcing providers this topic is worth investing into.
Let’s start with classic DOs of professional email, or The Keepers:
- Keep it Short. I suggest keeping in mind a 10 seconds principal – write your email with expectation that the reader should spend not more than 10 seconds to read it. If you need to communicate considerable volume of information email might not be the vehicle to use. If that’s your target audience preference or some other reasons make it so put a 10 second summary upfront.
- Keep it Simple. Write to express not to impress. That is particular important when it comes to outsourcing, you Harvard vocabulary won’t help much to ESL members on the thread. Here is one of my favorite examples which takes a few seconds to comprehend even if English is the only language you speak – “Unremitting fealty to his métier sans interludes of hedonistic deflection renders Jack a hebetudinous hobbledehoy.” Just in case see “translation” in the bottom of the post.
- Keep it Personal. You should always mention recipient by name, use proper salutation and be polite.
- Keep it Formal. No matter how close you are with the recipient if you are writing a professional email you are engaged in conversation between two professionals. See a few tips on professional email etiquette below.
- Keep it Legal. Always be aware that you are talking on company behalf. In particular remember that there no such thing as email Security or Privacy. Business email sent to/from a company server belongs to the company and might be read by someone other than your intended recipient So, never put anything in email that you will not say in public
The next rule is the Brevity Principle, or the simple basic, and yet most frequently broken rule: Business email should be limited to a single topic. Sending email covering a variety of topics almost guarantees that some of those would be missed, lost or misinterpreted.
Very important rule is to stay away from clichés and limit your use of idiomatic expressions. Once in awhile you come across people who are just can not say things in a plain manner and the content of the message gets lost in a stream of expressions. “Let’s run it up the flag pole to see if it passes the acid test, or we’ll be back to square one. That ought to give us a ballpark figure beyond a shadow of a doubt what our bottom line will be. If we can’t hit the nail on the head we might have to bury the hatchet and get back to our original bread-and-butter issues.” I am still trying to figure out what this one meant.
There is more to it. Idiomatic expressions are dangerous traps in cross cultural conversations. Just a few weeks ago I was talking with a brilliant techlead of my team in Latin America. When closing the discussion I asked – “Javier, do you think we are on the same page now?”. “I am not sure Nick” – he replied – “what is the number of the page you are on?”
And now a few email etiquette rules / tips on keeping email professional:
- Reply in timely manner. I recommend using 24 (business) hour turnaround time. In case you need more time to address the issue / etc. send a brief status email.
- Answer all questions, and pre-empt further questions.
- Use the fields correctly
- From (make sure that your email client is setup properly)
- Subject (40 char summary of the email body)
- TO (intended receipt of the email)
- CC (keep the number very small – do not spam people just for FYI reason)
- BCC (avoid using it altogether)
- Do not shout, in particular:
- Do not USE ALL CAPS
- Do not use excessive punctuation – Why???????
- Do not use “teen talk”, IM lingo and other casual language – WTF!?
- Do not get “personal”, especially “in public”, never:
- Reprimand someone in email
- Make someone look stupid
- Question one’s credibility
- Watch your attachments
- Do not forget them (you may want to consider Outlook plug-in that does the attachment check)
- Do not send files that are large (over 1 MB) or likely to conflict with email rules (e.g. *.exe files)
- Do not use vCards and certification pics (they make every email appear to have an attachment)
- Be extremely careful with
- Humor (potentially huge communication trap in cross-cultural setting)
- Reply All
- Adding recipients to email thread
- Message threads
I guess that covers high points. To see more on the topic just google “email etiquette”.
“Unremitting fealty to his métier sans interludes of hedonistic deflection renders Jack a hebetudinous hobbledehoy.” is just a fancy way of saying “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”