The reason behind this publication is not motivated by any recent personal experience. However, I continually see issues with email etiquette and felt I had to express my views. I realize that there are no written laws governing email etiquette but at the same time there are things that just make common sense that I continue to see being ignored. I would like to clarify that many of these issues would also apply to texting, IM, etc…
Reading others email. I know that many companies make it a point to capture their employee’s emails in an attempt to make sure they are doing the right thing, or catch them saying or doing the wrong thing. While part of me says that if you’re not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to worry about, I have to say that I disagree with this practice. It is a federal crime to read someone else’s snail mail, but electronic mail is fair game. Doesn’t seem right to me! While I agree that only a fool would have any expectation of privacy in an email, I also feel that capturing someone’s email is no different than reading someone’s snail mail, or diary for that matter. At the end of the day the thing to remember is even though I believe this practice should never be implemented, you need to assume that “Big Brother” is always watching, so don’t put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to see posted in the company lunch room.
Forwarding emails. Over and over again I see examples of emails that get forwarded from one individual to another. Sometimes it is done maliciously and on purpose to show someone else what is being said, but many are sent because the person forwarding the email didn’t bother to read the whole email trail before forwarding it. Many times, in this case, there will be some sensitive information in the email trail that was never meant to be seen by anyone other than the recipient. But, because they didn’t take the time to read the whole string, they have now put the sender in a bad situation by forwarding this information to others who, you can bet, will read the whole string and spread around what was said to everyone. Again, this can be avoided by not putting anything in an email that you don’t want everyone to see. However, there are many times where the only way you can contact someone is through email. While I understand that in an email, things are kept brief and this makes it easier for executives to deal with more issues, we need to make ourselves more available to our teams so they don’t have to put everything into an email. The lesson that needs to be learned in this section is that you should never forward another person’s email unless they approve of you doing so. You can forward an email if you delete the other person’s name from the trail, or copy and paste the pertinent information from their email, so it cannot be traced back to them. Otherwise you will begin to shut down the communication between you and your team and then no one wins. Be considerate and think before you hit that forward button.
Blind Copy. This is a pet peeve of mine. It takes me back to high school when you would receive a phone call, and they had someone else on the other line listening to what you had to say. I guess the group Bowling For Soup had it right, “High School Never Ends”. I don’t understand why we even have a BCC option on an email. I know I will hear from many people telling me good reasons to BCC other people (keeping them in the loop and other such nonsense), however my personal feeling is, that this is a cowardly way of letting someone in on a conversation while hiding it from the person you are communicating with. In my mind this is no different than setting up a hidden camera, or tape recorder. Once again, I feel that this is a breach of trust and there is no reason why you would have to BCC someone unless you are too afraid to let the recipient know you are including a third party. Trust is the key component to any good relationship and over and over again I see trust being violated through the use of electronic communication.
Emailing Angry. Some of the best advice I have ever received from a superior was to never email angry. This practice has time and time again saved me great embarrassment. The right thing to do is go ahead and respond to the email and get it off your chest. Just don’t send it. Leave it in your draft file. The following day re-read the email. If you still feel that way, send it. In most cases you will re-write the email in a more docile tone, or you may just delete it and let the whole thing go. There are too many cases of email trails that go on arguing for pages and pages adding more and more people to the email trail with each response. This is a huge waste of company time and resources and usually is over a personal issue that has little to do with work. (I would also like to include that you shouldn’t email after drinking either.) A great rule of thumb is to never send or respond to, a loaded email after work or on the weekends. More often than not this turns into a bad situation and people could end up fired. No one wants to deal with drama, or work issues during their time off unless it is an emergency. So think before you send!
For well over a decade email has been the standard form of communication in a professional setting. With iPads, Blackberry’s, smart phones, etc…, electronic communication is more popular than ever. While I agree that many times it makes more sense to send a quick text or email to let someone know where you are, or a quick note rather than getting drawn into a long phone conversation, I also fear that we are breeding a generation of future business professionals that will lack the ability to verbally communicate in a face to face environment. When we send an email, we have time to stop and think about what we are going to say and choose our words carefully. In a face to face conversation you do not have this luxury. You have to think on your feet and be able to communicate your ideas without taking long pauses. This new disturbing trend is causing people to completely cease all verbal communication. What will the long term consequences be if we lose the ability to communicate in person? Furthermore, electronic messages lack the personal touch. It locks out the ability to read the inflections in someone’s voice and to tell when someone is joking, mad, or lying. Finally, email should be used as a tool to be more effective at your job and not as a weapon. I believe that if you follow these few simple rules of etiquette then you can avoid most of the pitfalls associated with electronic communication.
In closing, if you have something to say don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. Email and other electronic communications are great tools, but we should never lose that personal touch that separates us from our competition.