E-Mail Correspondence

Everyone has one. An e-mail misstep story in which a colleague receives the wrong e-mail and, as a result, attends the wrong meeting, misses an appointment, or misconstrues the message.

New York attorney Yves Denize relates her account involving two colleagues who had the same last name, Wong, but worked in different departments. The wrong Wong, however, was included erroneously as a recipient in an e-mail about a meeting. She dutifully attended, equipped with her notebook and pen, although unsure why her presence was requested. When Denize questioned her attendance, Wong shrugged and responded, “I have no idea!” They chuckled when realizing the error, but had the sender double-checked the recipients’ names before clicking send, the right administrator would have been in the meeting.

Trudy Bourgeois, performance strategist and founder and president of Workforce Excellence, recommends double-checking every component of an e-mail, including recipients’ names, grammar, spelling, and even the tone of your message, before sending.

“E-mail is an important tool that can shape your professional image. You can lose your career over e-mail.” It’s why Bourgeois advises never sending e-mail in haste and suggests setting time aside to focus before composing one. “First, decide what it is you’re trying to communicate.” Then, after reading what you’ve written, “ask yourself if you’ve accomplished your goal.”

E-mail is often seen as an expedient way of communicating with colleagues. Because the process of e-mail is so convenient, it is easy for some professionals to become lazy with their correspondence. But Bourgeois warns that every aspect of work requires excellence in delivery.

Peggy Duncan, personal productivity expert and author of Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette, and Outlook 2003, concurs. “There’s a difference between business and casual, and that distinction must be preserved,” she explains. “If you wouldn’t put trailing ivy or a smiley face on a business letter, don’t put it on a business e-mail.”

But if an e-mail is inappropriate, presentation won’t matter. “Complicated, complex issues should not be communicated by e-mail,” says Duncan.

For more information about e-mail, go to PeggyDuncan.com and read her article on e-mail pet peeves or check out the book Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home (Alfred A. Knopf; $19.95).

To minimize your chances of being a repeat offender of e-mail gaffes, Duncan and Bourgeois offer the following advice:

Think before you write. Have a conscious, intentional mind-set and decide beforehand what it is that you need to communicate. Never send complex, conflict-driven messages via e-mail.

Check it twice. Read and proofread the e-mail before you send it, which includes double-checking your grammar. Don’t send unnecessary attachments and do not hit reply all if “all” do not need to know.

Keep it professional. Use an appropriate salutation and closing. Make sure the subject line matches the message. Respond in a timely manner, or respond briefly by saying you’ll get back to the sender at a specific time. Don’t use smiley faces or emoticons and don’t use an inappropriate e-mail address.