email etiquette

I am teaching my sons how to answer a phone, how to write a letter and thank you notes, and how to send an email.  This last is not a skill I learned as a boy, as email was just beginning as I graduated college and entered grad school (I suddenly feel very old!!!).

But there IS an etiquette to email… and judging from the amount of “Fwd this to everyone you know” and “Reply-All” emails I see, it is still a much needed skill set.  So I am reprinting part of this article on email etiquette below as a primer that I have used recently with my boys… but here are the highlights:

  • All email is not urgent!!!  Email creates a false sense of “this is top priority”.  Don’t let someone else who doesn’t know the above tips hi-jack your agenda and plans. Create times in your day to process email and stick to it.
  • [Attention Pastors… this one is for YOU!] I DO NOT respond to rude, thoughtless, or negative email.  In fact, I DON”T EVEN READ IT.  Just because some blowhard sits down and fires off a mean-spirited or thoughtless email DOES NOT mean I have to respond.  In fact, if I do respond, I have just trained that person on how to generate a quick response from me (thus encouraging more negative email)!  Make bad emailers wait and teach them better communication habits!
  • Don’t plaster a bunch of addresses in the “To:” field… it is considered less than polite and a breach of privacy.  Instead, put your own name in the “To:” field, and blind-copy all other recipients (Bcc).
  • A lot of people do not like Fwd mail (I am one of them).  In fact, I often set up filters so I never see mail that has been Fwd more than one time… so ask your recipients if they want to receive your mass-forwarded emails… you’ll make a friend happy!
  • Email is not a replacement for phone calls or face to face meetings.  If it is not short, brief, and factually oriented, don’t choose email as the media!  Most long emails aren’t read, and a phone call is interactive – email is one way communication.
  • Never write or send email when emotional.  (see above)  Email is very easily misconstrued; all  non-verbal cues, such as tone of voice, facial expressions, etc., are absent.  Don’t hit “Send” and then regret it later.  Use your “Drafts” folder if you must – write the email to vent, but then save it to “Drafts”.  If it still feels good in one or two days, then go ahead and send it.
  • Be descriptive in the subject line.  If you receive a lot of email like I do, having a clear, concise, and helpful subject line GREATLY assists workflow and correspondence.  For example, if you are sending documents related to a meeting, put “Agenda and Financial Docs for Tues Meeting” in the subject line, not “Stuff for later”.  Particularly if your recipient uses a thread-based email client (like Gmail – my preference) subject lines guide the whole conversation – so be diligent!
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