Email has become the fundamental tool of business communication, and I don’t know a single person whose inboxes aren’t inundated with messages.
As an increasing amount of business is conducted via email, it’s even more important to ensure that the way we send our messages actually achieves our goals. I find that people are becoming increasingly intolerant of sloppy, ineffective email practices, and that the folks who handle email properly have a decided edge in business.
If your email skills could use a little fine-tuning, take a look at these 15 email practices you should avoid at all costs:
1. Incorporating cutesy emoticons.
Smilies are fine for communiqués from 12 year olds. They’re not professional. Eradicate them.
2. Sending emails with irrelevant—or no—signature lines.
A signature line is a critical email element, but it should only contain all the appropriate ways to reach you. Your inspirational quote is nothing but a nuisance to folks you email 10 times a day. Streamline your signature.
3. Making spelling errors.
Good heavens, there are a bazillion ways to spell-check your emails. Use one of them—there’s no excuse for sloppy spelling. If your email service doesn’t have a built-in spell-checker, then copy and paste important emails into a word processing program that does. The same goes for grammar and punctuation. Get it right.
4. Using “Reply All” for every message.
Before you hit “Reply All,” ask yourself if every single person on the list really needs to see your response to the email. It may take a few seconds longer, but only reply to the relevant folks.
5. Being too longwinded.
Brevity is the soul of wit, lingerie and email. Get to your point, and be done with it.
6. Including marathon-length previous conversations.
Include only what’s necessary. Judicious (and ethical) copy and paste is your friend.
7. Altering previous conversations.
This is a cardinal sin. Don’t ever edit another person’s email to change or obscure their meaning. It’s despicable, and you’ll look like a slimeball if you’re caught.
8. Using irrelevant subject lines.
“Thought you’d be interested in this” is far less useful than “Friday Meeting Time.” As our inboxes get fuller, we rely more and more on subject lines to search for relevant messages. Make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for.
9. Outing someone who bcc'ed you.
It’s critical that you pay attention to the cc/bcc situation and ensure that you don’t “Reply All” when your correspondent clearly wants you to be an invisible part of the communication.
10. Burying your point.
If your email recipients have to wade through huge walls of text to locate your point or your question, you’re less likely to get the action you want. Email should be efficient and task-oriented.
11. Ignoring important emails.
Whether it’s because your inbox is too full or because you’re a procrastinator, when you fail to take action on an email that requires some effort from you, you make people angry. Get in the habit of flagging emails that require action, or better yet, just reply and be done with it.
12. Overemphasizing the importance of your inbox.
For the vast majority of us, email should be a tool used to accomplish a task—the means to an end, rather than an end on its own. Checking your email is one of the best ways to pretend to be working. Efficient people use email to support their productivity rather than as proof that they’re working.
13. Replying without sufficient reflection.
Although email feels less formal because it’s virtually instant, it’s still a business communication, and it’s wise to ensure that your response is professional, appropriate and accurate. If that means taking half an hour to cool down after an email that provoked an emotional response, then take the time to respond coolly.
14. Using a gushy closing.
If you have an appropriate signature line—your name and contact information—then most emails can simply conclude with no closing at all. Things like “Very truly yours” or “Warmest regards” feel inauthentic and could irritate your recipient.
15. Attaching enormous files.
If you're emailing relevant photos or documents, be sure you're not sending images that are life-size. Instead, resize images appropriately and refrain from attaching 14 documents when all your recipient needs is a copy of the cover letter. Be judicious when determining exactly what to attach.
As much time as the average person spends on email—reading, replying, cataloging—we all appreciate the correspondents who take the time to get it right. Concise, professional emails demonstrate that you’re considerate, detail-oriented and efficient.
For more tips on how to connect with customers through great emails, access this exclusive video course, Rethink Your Emails to Customers.
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