Do's and Dont's in Sending Emails at Work
Most of us don’t think twice. We read someone’s email and respond immediately. No thought is given to what we are about to say and, more important, how we will say it. I have encountered rudeness in email exchanges, bullying behavior, inappropriate language and defensiveness. I once received an email from a colleague after sending him my comments on a proposal that included: “Did you read the proposal?” Come up with a better one if you don’t like mine.
Emails can be dangerous. You tend to lose your formality and thoughtfulness in emails. Some use it as an outlet to vent very much like some people drive aggressively and even recklessly after a hard days’ work or uncomfortable encounter. Some emails contain content never intended for newspapers or television yet, depending on the matter, it is fair game in legal discovery.
Here are my ten rules for email etiquette in no particular order:
1. Sleep on potentially contentious emails before going off half-cocked in responding; reread them prior to responding and reflect on what is it you want to say; stick to the point; don’t go off on tangents
2. Watch your tone. Many times it’s not what we say but how we say it that evokes a response.
3. Don’t let your feelings show about past baggage or your animosity towards the sender. Personalities have no place in email exchanges.
4. Don’t send anything that could be offensive to anyone. Many lawsuits have come from people sending "innocent" jokes to their co-workers and offending one or more of them.
5. Don’t send anything in email that you would not like broadcasted to everyone you know. Some have accidentally "replied" to everyone on their address list or sent the email to an unintended party. If you are discussing another employee (or a confidential business procedure), it is best to do these in person or over the phone before the information is emailed.
6. Be conscious of spelling and grammar. Properly constructed email messages send a message the item being discussed is important to you. Carelessly composed emails may indicate carelessness on the job.
7. Don’t send copies of your emails to the immediate world. You will be perceived as a trouble maker and must people of authority only want to be included in email exchanges on a need to know basis.
8. Send the e-mail to yourself first before sending it to anyone else. Read what you have said. Is it concise and to the point? Does it offend anyone?
9. Don’t overuse "high importance" flags or designations like "Urgent" or "Read Me." Used sparingly, these may compel your audience to pay more attention to what you write. But if you use it all the time, the effect is reversed. Remember the story about “The Boy Who Cried Wolf?”
10. Don’t compose e-mails in ALL CAPS. It's tempting to do if you want to emphasize a point, but veterans of electronic communication know that this is the cyberspace equivalent of yelling at someone - not a treatment most of us would welcome.
The moral rules of sending emails are the same as anything else -- be honest, considerate, diligent, and take responsibility for your actions. These are the principles I use in conducting seminars for organizations on ethics in the workplace.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 5, 2011