Today we’re going to talk about some basic, simple thoughts or “rules” for emailing. This article is quite beginner-oriented, but hopefully everyone will be able to pick up something from it.
I’m sure we’ve all, at one time or another, sent the wrong email to the wrong person or, at the very least, hurt someone’s feelings by having a minor miscommunication blow up in our faces. We’re going to see if we can avoid or, at least, minimize those situations. Here are some tips:
1. Make sure you’ve got the right recipient
This seems so obvious that it shouldn’t even have to be mentioned. But a common mistake – one that I’ve heard horror stories about – is when you write something negative about another person, to a friend or colleague, and, rather than sending it to the friend/colleague, you send it to the person you’re dissing. Ouch!
The reason this happens, most likely, is that you’re thinking about that person or intending to forward an email he/she sent, but accidentally reply instead.
The simple solution, of course, is to just not say anything mean about anyone. That would be the Buddhist thing to do. But, if you’re not yet so enlightened, at least try to be fully aware when sending an email of this sort.
Gmail has an “undo send” feature, which can be a Godsend. However: (a) you have to set that feature in advance, and, (b) you only have a maximum of 30 seconds to undo – that’s usually enough, as you often have that horrible sinking feeling that you’ve sent the email to the wrong person almost immediately after you hit ‘send’ but, if it doesn’t hit you ’til later, you’re hooped. Still, it can be a lifesaver. Presumably more and more email programs will introduce this feature.
2. Be careful who you’re sending to
This is related to the first rule; the difference being that you haven’t sent the email directly to the person you don’t want seeing it, but you may have sent it to someone who forwards it (often unintentionally) and it ends up in the inbox of the unintended. So you’re right back in that awful hole of situation #1.
Again, if you simply can’t prevent yourself from sending an email that could get you into trouble, at least be as clear as possible to the recipient(s) not to forward it. And watch those (sometimes automated) CCs!
3. Damage control: Be prepared to eat crow
So, what can you do if the worst-case scenario happens and your “poisoned” email does end up in the hands of the unintended? Well, it’s not going to be pretty. But don’t make it worse by blaming someone else or technology. Admit your guilt, beg for forgiveness, tell the person how stupid and unprofessional your actions were, own it. Naturally the response will depend on the damage and how it was taken by the recipient. However, I’ve seen these situations get repaired and the people involved continue to have a good relationship.
4. Avoid all-caps
Yes, I see the irony of this sub-heading. But in an email, in particular, all-caps is the equivalent of yelling. If you do use them, it should really only be for a word or short phrase, for emphasis. But a whole email or large portions of one in all-caps hurts the reader’s mind’s ears. I’m sure you’ve all experienced receiving an email like that, so you know what I mean.
An even less offensive method for emphasizing a word or phrase in an email – assuming you’re not able to bold or italicize text – is to use asterisks, like this: this *word* is really important. People generally get that.
5. Be wary of tone
Until some technology is invented that truly conveys our emotions in an email, keep in mind that things can get read the “wrong” way and cause hurt feelings. For example, you send a heart-felt email to a friend, making plans to meet up for lunch, and the response you receive is, “Sounds good, see you then.” You wonder why they’re being so terse. It’s probably just that they were in a rush, but it still leaves you wondering if they’re mad at you and being cold.
That’s why God invented smiley faces. I know they can come across as childish and even annoying, but I err on the side of overusing them. Better safe than sorry, I figure. If there’s a chance something I’ve written may be taken as harsh or cold, I usually add a 🙂 or 😉 at the end of the sentence. Of course, nowadays, there’s a whole world of emojis – feel free to use those where appropriate – but they’re usually best saved for friends, rather than professional relationships.
6. Use numbered lists for questions
One of my biggest frustrations is when I need several questions answered in an email and the response I receive only addresses my first question. People are busy and/or lazy, so often miss your full email. Now, if I have more than one or two questions, I put them in a numbered list. That organization makes it way easier for the reader to see each question on its own. And, if they like to insert answers within your email, that’s easily done.
7. Watch “spammy” language
Spam filters can ease a lot of the pain of receiving too much garbage in our inbox. But be careful that you don’t set off your recipients’ filters yourself (and then wonder why you haven’t received a response). Using words like “free” more than once or twice in an email could set off red flags and prevent your email from getting delivered, so use sparingly.
I hope these tips help you have more friendly and effective email communications. Being thoughtful when emailing can make for a much better experience for you and your readers.