Email is a primary means of business communication. It’s easy, nearly instantaneous, flexible and can be extremely cordial. Whether the email user is wearing a three-piece suit in an office or sitting at home in his/her pajamas, email creates a façade that is both empowering and sheltering. Unfortunately, the very characteristics that make email so powerful can also lull users into making costly mistakes.
Such mistakes can undermine both deals and relationships.
Email, like any other verbal or nonverbal communication, is a major part of our professional image. Our email needs to convey the right messages so others perceive us in the light we wish to be perceived. Here are a few timeless style tips for better digital communication:
- Keep your message simple and clear. Edit unnecessary words to focus your recipient on what's most important. Short sentences and bullet points make your message easier to read on a computer screen and smartphone. It's estimated that people read more than 40 percent of email on a smartphone.
- Answer all questions and be proactive. Avoid wasting time with back-and-forth emails. Answer all the questions someone poses to you, and proactively answer the questions your recipient will likely ask next.
- Respond quickly. Email is built for speed. Respond within 24 hours. If it will take longer to respond, let the sender know you received his or her email and are working on a response. You will build trust among your friends and business associates and let them know that you are not ignoring them.
- Use polite greetings and closings. "Please" and "thank you" go a long way to convey a positive tone.
- Use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation. Be professional and show you care. Always use spell check and proofread your emails.
- Do not use ALL CAPS. Are you yelling at someone? All caps place emphasis where you may not want it and ill-used, can detract from your intended meaning. Use caps only when grammatically appropriate.
- Don't use special formatting, backgrounds, colored text, or emoticons. Many feel they're unprofessional.
- Double check for correct email addresses and attachments. Avoid being embarrassed or disseminating proprietary information.
- Be clear in the subject line. Briefly explain the content of your message to prevent people from ignoring your emails.
- Never send an email when you're upset. Step away from your computer and consider how to best resolve the issue. Once it’s in writing there is no retrieving it. The ‘recall’ button does not eliminate the email.
- Don't hide behind email. It feels so easy to avoid difficult conversations by sending an email, but research shows conflicts escalate more quickly and last longer over email.
- Don't be afraid to pick up the phone. Email is not always the right vehicle. You should never give bad news over email. It's best to address complex information in a face-to-face conversation; nuance is often missed over email.
- Use the Cc field as an FYI. The Cc field means "this is for your information," and you are not expected to take action.
- Use the Bcc field for large groups of recipients. Don't advertise people's email addresses.
- Only use "reply all" when appropriate. If everyone on the chain doesn't need to see your response, why fill up their inboxes?
- Take care when you send large files. Check with your recipient in advance to see how she would like to receive the file.
- Be polite. Write as if you are speaking to the person face-to-face. Don’t use the façade of email to be bolder or ruder than you would usually be.
- Be clear that your signature is clear. Include all pertinent information and do not include ‘cutesy’ sayings.