Have you ever received an email riddled with unfamiliar acronyms? How about receiving an answer to only one of the three questions you asked in the email you sent last Friday? We recently asked some of our most trusted colleagues and business contacts to take a survey on the biggest challenges with professional email etiquette and their answers may surprise you.
Their biggest email pet peeve
By far, our respondents are most irked when they’ve asked two or more questions in an email message, even using numerals to indicate multiple items, and get an answer to only one of their questions. Senders judge this kind of response as either a lack of courtesy, a lack of accuracy, a lack of self-awareness, or a lack of thoroughness.
What the sender can do
You could elect to send just one question per email; but, this is time-consuming and likely frustrating, as it takes more time and organization to collect individual responses.
Tips for recipients
Proofread your replies against the email to which you are replying to ensure a thorough response, reply with inline comments in a different font color, or (for more lengthy replies) set a time to discuss the questions to ensure complete responses.
The infamous “reply all” button comes in second
We’ve all received an email (or 10), where only the first or second email was actually relevant to the group and, 15 responses later, we’re ready to log out of our email to avoid the incessant dinging of now irrelevant communications. Our respondents categorize hitting “reply all" as a lack of consideration.
Tips for recipients
Before replying, ask yourself if your reply is truly applicable to the entire recipient list. If not, just reply to the sender. Also, ask yourself if your reply might better be handled by a call or face-to-face conversation.
And we have a three-way tie for “equally irritating”
Third place goes to three equally annoying habits: the ambiguous ‘yes’, proofreading fails, and non-specific subject lines.
Tips for recipients
- The ambiguous yes. We’ve all received an answer of ‘yes’ to a question to which this wasn’t a possible answer. Avoid this faux pas by making time to read and reply to your emails with attention. This may mean carving out time throughout the day to focus on inbox cleanup; and, both you and your colleagues will appreciate the completeness of your replies. You’ll likely further improve your working relationships for the attention to detail for which you’ll be known.
- Spelling- and grammar-checking software can be helpful tools. But putting too much trust in them may mean your message is still missing the mark. Take the time to read through your reply before hitting the ‘send’ button. Make sure you’ve said what you meant and that you have been clear by putting yourself in the seat of the intended recipient. You’ll probably catch typos or unclear statements that your software missed. This may also help you to decide if what you’ve written would be better communicated in person (think: feedback, problem resolution, complaints, sensitive subjects, or lengthy answers). A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself “would this be better received or more efficiently handled in person?”
- Do you prioritize your replies based on ‘first in, first out’ or based on a subject line? It’s likely a mix of the two, so take care in choosing your subject lines to ensure recipients can do the same. A lack of detail in stating the purpose of your message may delay a reply, so stay away from general headlines like “following up”, “one more thing”, or “today”. Be exact. State your purpose. Note a due date or level of urgency in the headline (as opposed to marking as urgent) and you’ll ensure your email receives appropriate attention.
How to avoid being “that person”
Keep it simple
Run as fast as you can from including acronyms, jargon, or verbose language that could (and should) be simplified.
Statements like “through our employee-refresh, we will reduce human capital by 10 percent. We will also cross-walk approximately 2 percent of employees into new roles in re-defined swim lanes. Our new paradigm is ‘empowered efficiency’” or, “the new DB permits FPL and SRT to run more effectively, thereby reducing RT” are confusing, at best. Keep it simple, and to the point, and use common language whenever possible.
And, avoid these bad habits
- Replying ‘call me’ instead of picking up the phone
- Writing long email messages without a summary or specific action items
- Forwarding emails without context so that the reader has to sift through two weeks of communication to find the golden nugget
- Failure to acknowledge receipt of important documents like contracts or other files, leaving the sender wondering if they made it to your inbox
- Sending marketing emails that try to fool the recipient into thinking there’s a connection with them when there isn’t
- Including links with no context apart from ‘click here’, ‘have you seen this’, or ‘look at this’
The best rule of thumb to avoid becoming a dreaded emailer? Employ the golden rule and, when in doubt, pick up the phone, schedule a touch base, or get up and stretch your legs on the way to a co-worker’s workstation to handle your communication in person. You’ll be glad you did and you’ll end up helping to make heroes of everyone with whom you work, while modeling a great example of excellent communication.