Like most things surrounding the internet, email is a mixed bag when it comes to employees’ productivity.
On one hand, email is an effective medium to communicate – it’s often more practical than phone calls and is a communication standard across most organizations.
On the other hand, email is incredibly distracting and time-consuming – a study from McKinsey showed that employees spend about 30% of their time reading and answering email!
To make things more complicated, many employees don’t master email writing skills and habits right away… if they ever do.
For instance – communicating online increases the risk for misunderstandings. When you’re communicating in a face-to-face context, factors like gestures and tone give clues to a speaker’s intent. You can read body language, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues to alter messages and avoid misunderstandings.
Developing effective email communication, mastering email writing skills, and establishing good email writing habits will instantly improve your employees’ online professionalism, which translates to a better reputation offline, too!
Here are the top email writing tips for everyone in your organization to follow:
- Keep emails focused on work and gossip-free
- Always double-check recipients are correct
- Don’t email while angry
- Use other channels for more casual messages
- Consider whether verbal communication would be better
- Use the “urgent” flag sparingly
- Don’t CC people who don’t need the message
- Use BCC to protect others’ privacy
Now let’s go over these in a little more detail!
Email Rules to Live By
Communicating online, whether through email, social media, or a messenger app, comes with a brand new set of rules – keeping these three rules in mind will instantly increase how effectively and safely you communicate online.
Rule #1: Everything is permanent, and nothing is secret
On the tennis court, the legendary Serena Williams rarely makes mistakes, but when it comes to navigating social media, she can be as clumsy as the rest of us.
In April 2017, Williams accidentally revealed to the world that she was pregnant, by posting a photo of her baby bump on her Snapchat.
She told People Magazine, “I didn’t tell a lot of people to be quite honest, and I’d been saving it. On social media, you press the wrong button and… 30 minutes later I missed four calls and I’m like, ‘That’s weird.’ But it was a good moment. I was only going to wait five or six more days [to share].”
This example demonstrates a few things about online communication: you might intend to send a message to one person, but either by accident or through forwarding, others who you didn’t intend can easily see that message.
To avoid any potential embarrassment (or worse), keep messages focused, professional, and free of gossip.
Rule #2: Double-check email recipients before sending
When it comes to emails, there are few horrors as real as sending an email to the wrong recipient. Once it’s done, you can’t undo it.
FinancialDiet.com published a list of email horror stories, including this all-too-common mistake:
“Two of my clients have the same name, and I accidentally emailed a scope of work to someone that had no business seeing details, pricing, hourly breakdowns, the deck, etc. It was a Friday afternoon, I was being sloppy, and there was really no excuse.
“I got a call chiding me about my mistake the following week which looked even WORSE because they had to be the one to call me out on my dumb error — I was too busy to even catch it and take care of it myself.”
As you can see, not checking recipients twice can lead to some bad results, that don’t just reflect poorly on you – they could reflect poorly on your entire organization!
Rule #3: Avoid communicating online while angry
Since what you write in email or digital messengers lives forever and can be seen by anyone, make sure that you always present your best side when using these mediums to communicate.
One of the best examples of this comes from the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Although Lincoln never sent an email (we’re pretty confident stating that as fact), we imagine he would have followed our advice – he certainly did when it came to writing letters.
On July 4, 1863, the United States was in the throes of the Civil War. On this particular day, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was trapped between the Potomac River and the oncoming Union Army. It seemed that victory was certain for the Union. President Lincoln ordered his own General, Robert Meade, to press forward and end the war.
General Meade, for some reason, thought this tactic unwise, and did the opposite. Lincoln was furious. He wrote a lengthy letter to his general, ridiculing him, and expressing his anger at Meade’s decision.
But that angry letter was never sent.
Follow Honest Abe’s example by not sending anything you write out of anger. Give yourself time to calm down and address the issue in person or over the phone.
If online communication is your only option, it might be wise to get someone else’s opinion on how it comes across – passive aggressiveness can sneak in even after you’ve calmed down, and it’s typically unhelpful for resolving issues.
Smart Habits for Effective Email Communication
Keep in mind that email is not appropriate or necessary for all types of communication. There are appropriate channels for informal or casual communication, and email should typically be reserved for priority communication, or for messages that need to be easily recalled.
Alternative messengers such as Skype, Slack, or Microsoft Teams are all excellent ways to make sure you and your team can engage and communicate about non-pressing matters, while keeping the channel of email clear for priority communication.
Keeping your email clear of casual conversations helps you mentally organize; when you keep email reserved for priority communication, you know where to go if you need to search for important messages, such as instructions passed to you by a client.
Consider too that the matter you are emailing might be suited for face-to-face communication or a phone call. Spoken communication is a great channel for discussing large ideas, planning strategies, or delivering big news.
A good rule of thumb to have is if you’re going to mark the email as urgent, consider calling or setting up a meeting instead.
Speaking of urgent, many email clients allow you to flag an email as urgent – but be warned: the “urgent” flag should be used sparingly. Not every email is an emergency, but if you treat them that way your colleagues will begin to ignore them – you’ll be the colleague who emailed wolf!
Respect Your Recipients
Frequently, emails will be addressed to more than one individual, sometimes through a CC (or Carbon Copy) field, which is visible to everyone receiving the email, or BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) where recipients are hidden from other other recipients.
Make sure you CC people sparingly – not everyone needs to be included in your correspondence. If you do not have explicit permission from a recipient to share their email, make sure you use BCC to respect their privacy – this goes especially for someone outside your organization.
Use the same logic when clicking that “forward” button. Unless you have a clear need or directions to forward an email, keep it between you and the other correspondent. Likewise, if you do not want an email forwarded, you can request that the message stay between you and the original recipients.
These are great rules to follow, but you can’t assume that everyone is going to be as good about sending email as you are.
Keep personal messages out of your professional email. Don’t share anything via work email that you wouldn’t be comfortable sending directly to your boss, just in case it ends up being sent directly to your boss.
Oh, and if you’re about to send an angry email, stop what you’re doing and take a walk. You can re-approach the communication once you’ve taken some time to cool down.
Being Professional Means Being Present
Be present when you’re sending an email. Make sure you’re being just as considerate when hitting that send button as you would be if you were about to verbally address a coworker.
Cultivating presence when sending your emails will keep you from making simple mistakes, such as missing an attachment, sending to the wrong person, or hitting reply-all when you just needed to reply to the sender.
Online communication is a skill, and one that most modern professionals need to master.
If your organization could improve their email writing habits and develop better online communication skills, check out this one-minute preview of “Writing More Effective Emails” from The BizLibrary Collection here: