This article was originally published on PR Daily in May 2016.
Manners tend get a bad rap for being old-fashioned and boring, but they affect our lives more profoundly than we might think—especially when it comes to workplace communication.
In today’s increasingly busy working world, many people tend to sacrifice manners for the sake of getting things done. Though efficiency is important, we should always be aware of how others perceive us—specifically when it comes to email.
I email dozens of communicators every day, and it never fails to surprise me how many people don’t practice good email manners. Now, I’m not talking about abusing “reply all,” copying unnecessary people on a message or drafting long, rambling letters. Those habits are frustrating and hopefully discouraged in most workplaces.
I’m talking instead about subtleties that, while in the grand scheme of things might not seem important, make life a little harder for the person you’re emailing—or, worse, make you look ill-mannered.
Consider your email habits. Do your messages make people’s live a little better or happier, or are your recipients heaving irritated sighs every time your name pops up in their inboxes?
If you’re doing any of these four things, your email manners have room for improvement:
1. Not addressing the person to whom you’re writing.
If you were to walk up to a co-worker’s desk to ask him something, you probably wouldn’t launch right into your question. You would say hello first.
It’s polite to greet the person you’re about to talk to, whether you’re face to face or chatting via email. You don’t have to start each message of a long email chain with hello, but you should start the exchange that way.
“But I just have to ask this person a quick question,” you say. It doesn’t matter. If that email is the first time you’re talking to the person that day, say hello. Jumping right into your thought (or, worse, your demand) is blunt and can seem disruptive and harsh. Start the exchange off right.
Similarly, end your emails with a sign-off. You would close a phone call or in-person conversation with “goodbye,” “talk to you soon” or “thanks” (you wouldn’t just hang up or run away), so do so in your emails.
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2. Including “Please excuse any typos…sent from my iPhone” at the end of your emails.
I get it. You’re busy. You’re away from your computer and trying to save time by replying to messages on your phone during your lunch break or commute home.
Are you so busy that you don’t have 30 seconds to reread your email for typos? I proofread my email before I sent it to you, and you should respect me and my time enough to do the same. Do you think I have time to decipher the meaning behind your misspellings?
I know that phones have small screens that make typing difficult. Not all of us have skinny fingers that can type correctly with ease. I’m talking to the people who use this disclaimer because they don’t want to “waste time” fixing their typos. If you would proofread your email before sending it to your boss or a client, you should do so for everyone else. It’s the respectful thing to do.
3. Not watching your tone.
This point is especially important for people who work remotely and don’t know their co-workers’ personalities well. If your recipient isn’t familiar with how you talk or your sense of humor, they could dramatically misinterpret your messages.
Say, for example, you’re a friendly, happy person, but you have an overwhelming workload and no time to write emails that accurately convey your cheery disposition. Your emails are short, blunt and devoid of punctuation or conversation that could help your reader understand that you asked her—with a smile—to please do that one task soon. Your recipient might think your personality is much different than it actually is.
Rather than risk your reputation, take a few seconds to add punctuation, a few adjectives or even an emoji (if appropriate) and let your reader know you’re a pleasant person. It might seem minor, but why take the risk?
4. Not reading an email in its entirety.
Have you ever asked someone a few questions via email, but the person only provided an answer to one of them? You were probably frustrated that you had to waste time reaching out to the person again to get a response to your other questions.
Unless an email is unreasonably long, read the whole thing and address everything that warrants addressing. You’ll save the other person’s time and yours, because you won’t have to reply to a second email later on.
We’re all busy, and it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to craft perfect emails all the time. Maybe sending one-word messages without any pleasantries is the way your organization operates, or you know the people you email well enough to not have to worry about any of the points above.
The bottom line, though, is that you shouldn’t get lazy. You never know what your email manners might be saying about you.