Don’t Hit Send! Avoid
These Common E-mail Pet Peeves
By Jean Kelley
letters…obnoxious or off-color jokes…these are just a few things
that annoy business professionals when it comes to daily e-mail.
While you’re likely not sending any of these things, what if your
e-mails to people are just as annoying?
people are unknowingly irritating co-workers and clients with bad
e-mail etiquette and habits. Even worse, the offenders are
tarnishing their reputations in the process, unaware that their
e-mails reflect their personal and company brand, their image, and
If you’ve ever
wondered why people don’t take action on your e-mails or why this
productivity tool seems to waste more of your time than it saves,
you may be guilty of exhibiting a few e-mail pet peeves. Following
are the top five e-mail pet peeves in the workplace. Avoid them so
your e-mail messages are most effective.
conversations via e-mail:
Sensitive and emotionally charged conversations have no place in an
e-mail. If you need to fire someone, express disappointment, or
apologize, do it face-to-face (most preferred) or via phone. When a
topic has emotion behind it, the recipient naturally escalates that
emotion when reading the e-mail. Why? Because it’s virtually
impossible to display emotion in an e-mail (aside from some
carefully placed emoticons, which not everyone appreciates), and
humans by nature look for the worst in a message rather than the
best. So your innocent question of “Why did you call Mr. Smith?”
gets read as an accusatory question, as if you had asked, “Why on
earth did you of all people call Mr. Smith and bother him?”
Adding fuel to the
fire is the fact that many people write things in an e-mail that
they would never say in person. They view e-mail as a way to have
“safe” conflict without being face-to-face. So they may snap back at
someone in a sarcastic way or slam someone professionally or
personally. Some people even enjoy this type of conflict, as it
gives them a charge. The bottom line is that if your message has any
type of intense emotion behind it, don’t send the e-mail. The matter
is best addressed in a face-to-face meeting or phone call.
Using “reply all”
Just because you were one of many recipients on a message does not
mean everyone needs to hear your reply. For example, a supervisor
may send a group message out to the entire department asking who
will be present at the quarterly meeting. The only person who needs
to see your response is the person who initiated the message, not
the entire group. If the group contains 100 people and each one does
a “reply all” saying, “I’ll be there,” you’ll have a very cluttered
inbox and 100 annoyed people.
think about who needs to see the message before you reply.
Obviously, if your company requires that you do a “reply all” for
business e-mails, then by all means do so. Otherwise, use the “reply
all” button judiciously. And remember that with a “reply all,”
everyone, even someone who was in the BCC line, will see your
comments. So you never really know who is getting your message.
Using poor grammar
A typo every now and then is not a big deal. However, consistent bad
grammar and spelling is obnoxious. E-mail is a form of written
communication, so respect the written word. Additionally, this is
business, and everything you do, say, and write is a reflection of
When people read
your messages, they naturally and automatically make a judgment
about you based on your writing. If your writing is poor, everything
else about you is in question. After all, if you don’t care enough
about your writing, what else don’t you care about? Your product?
Your service? The reader? Remember that the written word stays out
there forever, and no e-mail message is ever really deleted
permanently. Make sure your lasting impressions are good ones – even
when you e-mail.
If you have to give someone technical, detailed, or complicated
information, do it with a phone call and an e-mail as a backup
rather than relying solely on the e-mail communication. E-mail is
best suited for short messages that don’t require a lengthy
response. If your e-mail is more than a couple of paragraphs, pick
up the phone and talk to the recipient. Use the follow up e-mail to
send needed documentation or a recap of your verbal instructions,
but don’t expect people to read and act upon a lengthy or
you are the recipient of a detailed message and need time to work on
the reply, send back a short acknowledgment message that states, “I
received your message and am working on the needed items.” And if
the reply requires real discussion, then pick up the phone and talk
about it. Don’t rely on e-mail for every topic.
Writing bad subject
lines or not using subject lines:
Unless you’re doing e-mail marketing and relying on your messages to
sell people, use straightforward subject lines that reflect the true
theme of the message. Leave the cute and clever wording to the
marketers. For day-to-day business purposes, plain and direct work
best. So rather than have a subject line that reads, “Want to pick
your brain,” write, “Need your input on the Jones project.”
Realize, too, that
many people use their e-mail as a filing system, and they rely on
the subject lines to find key information later. So if all your
subject lines are vague (as in “A message from Tom Smith” or “Info
you requested”), or if you don’t use subject lines, people won’t
know what the message was about when they search their files later.
So always write detailed subject lines, as in “Dates for Singapore
conference” or “Files for Smith project.” And should the e-mail’s
subject change as the conversation ensues, then change the subject
line to reflect the new theme.
Get Your Message
E-mail has certainly come a long way in the past couple decades.
What was initially viewed as a novel way to share key information in
the 1990s is now the preferred method of business communication. But
remember, just because something is commonplace and expected doesn’t
mean you can become lazy with it. Always use e-mail properly and for
the purposes and subjects it was intended. By doing so, not only
will you avoid these pet peeves, but you’ll also gain productivity
rewards as you enhance your professional reputation.
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