A forgotten attachment. A glaring typo. A never-ending reply-all thread. We’ve all been on the sending (and receiving) end of common e-mail annoyances. But beyond being more cautious of simple slipups, there are plenty more subtle e-mail mistakes that often cause inbox angst.
Here’s what to consider before you hit send:
Know your audience
Before you begin typing away, “Stop, take a breath, and think about your audience,” career and executive coach Maggie Mistal says. “It’s really about who you’re sending it to and what’s going to be easier for them.” Begin with a descriptive subject that clearly highlights what the e-mail will be about, and think about what you might need from your recipient, and vice versa.
Say more with less
There’s nothing worse than feeling your eyes glaze over by the time you read paragraph six of an e-mail (if you even get that far). To curb reader fatigue, be as concise as possible, without clouding essential information. “I always say, ‘Bullet point me!’” Mistal explains. “You might need to communicate a lot in one e-mail, so separate out the points, and bold the action steps you need [the recipient] to take.”
Likewise, don’t send three emails when one will suffice, just because you’re in a rush and forgot some necessary info. Think through everything you need to address, and do so in one swoop.
Be mindful of tone
“There’s no tone in email, so you have to assume that anything you say can be taken the wrong way,” Mistal says. We’re all in a rush to get things done, but before hitting “send,” consider how your words might be received. Without the added layer of meaning that comes from inflection and body language, emails can easily be misconstrued. If you’re concerned about sounding like a jerk, Mistal suggests having another pair of eyes read it over, or writing a draft and allowing some separation time before sending. “Sleep on it, or if you can’t wait overnight, go for a walk around the block,” she suggests. “Come back with a fresh perspective.”
Know when to take it offline
Praise publicly, criticize privately. It’s one thing to compliment a job well done in an e-mail, but if you need to give negative feedback, pick up the phone or address the issue in person. And the worst thing you could ever do? Throw someone under the bus in an e-mail. “Blaming someone else on your team never sits well,” Mistal says. “It’s lasting and more public” and can trigger defensive reactions. “You’re better off picking up the phone and working it out.”
One-liners are okay if you have a rapport with the person on the receiving end of your email, but beginning with a kind “Hi, how are you?” always sets a courteous tone. “E-mail is an opportunity to get your point across in a way that’s respectful,” Mistal says. “Etiquette isn’t useless, there’s a real reason and value.”