I am confident everyone reading this article has a toolbox at home. I’m sure the tools that toolbox contains have prevented some major catastrophes. Think wrenches and screwdrivers! In the working world, it’s just as important to have a toolbox — one filled with tools to help you work smarter, thus preventing catastrophes at work. Here is an excerpt from Hello, Career — What You Need to Know to Be Successful in Your First Job — Work Smart in an Office or Remotely, which speaks to five email etiquette tools you’ll find most valuable in your working smart toolbox, because a good emailer equals a happy recipient.
1. Before you write an email, consider whether it makes sense to call the recipient instead.
Bottom line: every email runs the risk of being misinterpreted by the recipient. Maybe that’s happened a time or two? As we all know, a misinterpreted email can cause serious unintended consequences, including damaging relationships. So before starting to draft any email, ask yourself, “Considering the complexity and/or sensitivity of what I am about to write, does it make sense for me to call the recipient instead?” If the answer is yes, pick up the phone. Have a conversation about the topic and follow up with an email that highlights and confirms everything you’ve discussed. You will be in a much better spot, and so will the recipient, simply because you pushed those number buttons on your phone.
2. Include the importance of opening the email in the subject line.
Think about it this way. Your recipient receives many emails, too, and there are only so many hours in the day to read them. So, make it easy on the recipient by using the subject line to let them know the importance of opening your email. It will take you 10 extra seconds and will be incredibly appreciated. Plus you’ll stand a better chance of getting a response sooner for your higher priority emails. Here are some examples of degrees of importance you can place in the subject line:
✓ FYI (you are simply making them aware of something and they can look at the email at their leisure)
✓ FOR REVIEW AND RESPONSE (you need them to look at the email and respond but it’s not urgent)
✓ HIGH PRIORITY (you need them to look at the email and respond as soon as possible)
✓ IS IT FRIDAY YET? (no description necessary)
3. Ensure your emails are direct and concise.
As we all know, no one has time to read emails, which is why you’re already going to make the process easier by providing the importance in the subject line.
Now, let’s focus on enhancing the value of the body of your email. Think back to your most demanding English teachers. No doubt they drilled the importance of writing direct and concise essays — direct so the reader learns the message early on and concise so the readers don’t have to read for days to understand the message. Apply the same thought process to emails, because recipients appreciate easy-to-read emails. If you don’t, you run the risk that every time you send an email, recipients will sigh and delay opening your four-page novel that isn’t clear until page four (if they’re lucky). Think The Poky Little Puppy rather than War and Peace.
4. Include bullet point messages as often as possible.
If there ever was an email Hall of Fame, bullet point messages would be the first inductee. Why? They’d get votes from senders and recipients alike, as they have all these readability qualities:
✓ Are easier to write and read than paragraphs
✓ Stand out
✓ Carry the point/message of the email
✓ Easy to transfer into other documentation, such as presentations
Become the bullet point email king/queen, and you’ll be on your way to the working smart Hall of Fame.
5. Don’t write an email when you are mad, and keep negative emotions out of emails.
We’ve all gotten upset at our manager, colleague, consultant or vendor. Often, you’ll want to communicate with these people via email because you don’t want to see or talk to them. However, if you don’t listen to any other advice in this column, please listen to this: don’t ever send an email when you feel that frustration or anger bubbling inside you. Here’s why:
✓ Your recipients will never be able to unsee your message.
✓ Others may see your message and not understand the context as it’s coming from the person you sent it to (think leadership).
✓ Negative emotional messages are never professional.
✓ In the heat of the moment, you may not mean what you say.
✓ You run the risk of hurting your credibility within your own company and with whomever you’re communicating.
“I’ve never seen an email filled with negative emotions have a happy ending. In fact, they often make bad situations worse.”
I’ve never seen an email filled with negative emotions have a happy ending. In fact, they often make bad situations worse. They are a response to irrational thinking, which is never something you want to convey in your role. When you find yourself upset, call the individual over the phone or using virtual technology. Before doing that, though, do this:
✓ Take whatever time is necessary to simmer down and get yourself back in a rational frame of mind. Squeeze a stress ball. Take deep breaths. Go for a walk.
✓ Depending on who upset you, reach out to your manager, a trusted colleague or your mentor for advice. Ask them how to appropriately react and effectively respond. They can provide amazingly professional and rational advice, especially if they know you well.
✓ If you have no choice but to email, keep it simple, professional and short. In your email, request to speak with the recipient over the phone or in person.
In Hello Career, I write about more email etiquette tools, plus the value of other tools, including instant message tools, social media etiquette tools, presentation and spreadsheet tools and even a missed deadline mitigation tool. Adding all these tools to your working smart toolbox will not only help you avoid catastrophes, but will put smiles on the faces of those around you.