E-Manners… The Rules of Contemporary Email Etiquette

I have a love/hate relationship with email. I love the flexibility that it gives us to do business at all hours of the day, but I hate how impersonal, uninteresting and intangible it is. Today, it is used for just about all business correspondence, from hiring to firing, and while this is simply a sign of the times, I believe there is such a thing as proper email etiquette. At firstPRO, we used to send follow-up letters after meeting with a strong candidate or prospective client. Today, however, that follow-up is typically done via email because we have found that the immediacy is convenient and expected in the business world. We send Offer letters for our staff hires via email as well, but we always send a hard copy on company letterhead by traditional postal mail, too. When using email in lieu of a traditional letter, it is important to me that my staff observes this email etiquette. This means including a proper greeting with a correct body that doesn’t use any slang, short-cuts or e-grammar.

I also offer them the following tips:

• Use clear subject lines so that a busy person can filter through and open items by subject of importance.
• When recovering from a mistake, handle the situation immediately. Pick up the phone and apologize profusely, or go down to the individual’s office.
• Never include anything in an email that you would not want posted on a bulletin board.
• Never assume your email was received. With today’s sophisticated spam filters, it is very possible your party has not received the message. You can try forwarding again or pick up the phone and make a call.
GO SLOW, PROOF and DOUBLE CHECK EVERYTHING before responding or hitting the ‘send’ button.

Also bear in mind that nothing is confidential or private on email. Anyone can get a hold of anything you send. Just because you (or the receiver) deletes the message does not mean it is gone forever. It is better to refrain from emailing anything of a sensitive, serious or confidential nature. If it feels as if email is inappropriate, it most definitely is. Go with your gut instincts, and when in doubt, play it safe. It is a personal decision to decide to what level you want to embrace email, but it shouldn’t be all or nothing. Even for non-business emails, the use of text lingo or icons or cutesy symbols is inappropriate. People may draw conclusions about your maturity than aren’t accurate.

I believe that the immediacy and ease of email increases the risk of firing off something without proofing it, or worse yet, sending it or copying the wrong individuals. If I feel compelled to respond or address a situation that can evoke an angry response on my part, I will wait at least a few hours before responding. The lack of real human contact and voice inflections can create a situation ripe for misinterpretation. When you send something to more than one person or include individuals on the carbon copy function, be aware that the receiver can easily view that information and may or may not read something into it. Blind copy can immediately create an attitude of gossip or secrecy that may not apply to the situation. I am old-fashioned and like to receive a change of address or birth announcement through regular mail. I dislike e-vites as well. I don’t want to see the names of everyone who has been invited, and I don’t want to view all of their responses. There is something creepy about viewing all the same information the host or hostess receives. I hope that I will never have to utilize an e-vite, and dread the day that holiday cards begin arriving that way.

For me, nothing takes the place of the handwritten word or an actual tangible letter. I truly believe people read the written word in a different way than they read something on a computer screen or handheld electronic device. More attention is spent, and the document is absorbed in a more comprehensive way. With all of that said, it is certainly a wonderful thing to be able to communicate and take care of business at all hours of the day or night and at your convenience. Voicemail has become so tedious, and waiting for the completion of the message or the next instruction gets old fast. Email allows you to be specific and include any number of additional attachments, thus eliminating the need for a fax machine. I am certain it is here to stay, but coupled with a gracious and proper approach, I believe that email can be an asset to anyone who uses it.

By April Fawcett Nagel

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