Useful for its speed and reach, e-mail is a preferred method of communication and an integral part of today’s business. In a report conducted by the Radicati Group, worldwide e-mail traffic totaled 210 billion messages per day in 2008, with 37% of those e-mails being corporate messages. However, as prevalent as e-mail is, practicing proper etiquette — ranging from how you address a recipient to the correct way to send attachments — is not as common.
Because e-mail is so easy and convenient to construct, many forget that its intent in a business setting should always convey professionalism. E-mail at work is a business correspondence. “Your e-mail represents you in the same way a handshake does,” said business etiquette and protocol expert, Lydia Ramsey, founder of Manners That Sell. “It’s a professional representation of yourself.”
Just like the handshake, your e-mail starts with an introduction. “Put a little thought in the subject line,” says Bob Rosner of Workplace 911. “It should say exactly what’s in the e-mail.” In addition, Ramsey says the subject line should draw the reader in and make them want to open your e-mail. Writing a vague subject line or leaving it blank is a sure way of having your e-mail ignored. Also, in long strings of e-mail communications, both Ramsey and Rosner suggest changing or adjusting the subject line as the contents changes.
As critical as the subject line is, achieving the right tone is also very important, but can be a tricky endeavor. There are instances where intending to be brief can seem terse and demanding or where a good-natured and playful comment was read as an insult. A great way to set the right tone is to always start your e-mail with an opening. “Good morning,” “Hello,” or any other salutation can help you get the correct tone across. “We’ve become too abrupt,” Ramsey says. “You wouldn’t answer the phone without saying hello. We need to use some cordiality.”
Form can also affect the tone of your e-mail. Writing in all caps can convey an exclamation that may be hard to determine. “It can send a confrontational message,” explains career strategist and Georgetown University associate professor Dr. Shirley Davis. If you are writing in all caps to emphasize a point, consider underlining or bolding the important information instead. If you are in a conflict with someone, responding via e-mail is not the best way to resolve the issue. “E-mail is not bad, but it’s not the best way to deal with conflict” says Davis. Feelings and intentions can easily be misconstrued and are better expressed in personal conversations. “People can hide behind e-mail,” offers Ramsey. “Being in a one-on-one requires more time and effort. There are times when you need to pick up a phone.”