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8 business email etiquette blunders

Email etiquette

You probably use email almost every day at work. It’s quick and convenient, but that means it’s also easy to mismanage. Poor email etiquette can make you look unprofessional, rude or just plain clueless. Here, two communications experts share eight common work email faux pas and how to avoid them:

Ignoring the subject line

Not including an accurate subject of your email is annoying and can be disruptive, according to Marlan Buddingh, MA, a corporate communications specialist who teaches in the communication program at the University of Phoenix West Michigan Campus.

“Leaving the subject line blank basically says, ‘I’m not saying anything important,’” Buddingh explains. “I often have 20 to 30 emails to read, and I need to sort and prioritize them — which I can’t do without a subject line.”

He also recommends periodically changing subject lines to reflect any decisions that have been made in extended email conversations. “The whole ‘Re: Re: Re:’ thing gets irritating,” he notes. “Plus, updating the subject line helps you avoid those ‘Hey, where are we at on this?’ questions.”

Including too many abbreviations

“Things like ‘LOL, thx 4 yr msg!’ have no place in professional email,” even if you’re replying from a smartphone, Buddingh stresses.

“Thumb typing is OK for quick one- or two-word responses, but for anything beyond that, get yourself to a computer with a real keyboard and spell-check so you can write something thoughtful and professional,” he encourages, noting that using text speak in email messages also can reflect poorly on you.

Expecting instant responses

If you’re sending email to people who are relying on their smartphones or tablets to stay in touch, don’t expect them to view complex attachments or graphics right away, Buddingh says. “And if you’re receiving that kind of stuff on your phone, send a quick note explaining you’ll review the material when you can get back to your laptop,” he adds.

Not setting up an out-of-office reply

Whenever you plan to be away from your work email — even for a few hours — make sure to activate an automatic reply that explains you’re out of the office and when your contacts can expect a response, says Brenda Carey, MA, an IT professional who teaches communication courses at the University of Phoenix Philadelphia Campus.

“This is especially important if you’re in a support position, as it will help avoid the panic that may ensue when people don’t hear back from you,” Carey points out.

Using email to avoid confrontation

Some conversations just need to happen face to face — or at least by telephone. “You should never apologize or address mistakes via email,” Buddingh says, because emotions like remorse should only be conveyed personally. Firing or disciplining someone via email is also unacceptable. “It’s a passive-aggressive way of doing business,” he emphasizes.

Expressing sarcasm or insults

Email is a poor medium for delivering any kind of ironic or inflammatory communication, Carey cautions. “You need to walk very gingerly with email — especially since it’s so easily forwarded,” she advises.

Most people don’t have the necessary writing skill to pull off sarcasm without offending someone, she notes, while personal insults and petty gossip can make you look bad or even cost you a job. “A rule of thumb is if you can’t say it to the person’s face, don’t put it in an email,” she says.

Showcasing flashy graphics and wonky fonts

With so many different email platforms available today, using custom Microsoft® Outlook email stationery and nonstandard fonts is passé, Carey says.

“You should use only 12-point Times New Roman or Arial, because these transition well between different media,” she explains. “Custom email stationery that uses bright colors and graphics will get distorted on phones and tablets or web-based mail, while flowery fonts either won’t show up at all or just make you look unprofessional.”


Exploiting work email for personal business

Conducting personal affairs on your work email account is one of the worst things you can do, according to Carey. “Get a Gmail™ or some other web-based email service account, and keep your personal business separate from work at all times,” she stresses, noting that a surefire way to get your resumé tossed in the recycle bin is to apply for a new job from your current job’s email address.

“It’s always safe to assume your employer is reading your work email,” she says. “So don’t use it for anything you don’t want your employer seeing.”

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