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5 email blunders you need to stop

Updated: Jan 8

We spend a lot of time in email at work. Most of us couldn’t survive without it. But the wrong email behaviors can negatively impact your reputation, derail your relationships and decrease everyone’s productivity. Here’s a list of five things you might be doing wrong with email and some alternative approaches to getting the most out of communicating with your colleagues.

1. “Just so you know…” (a.k.a. “The over-sharer”)

Do you carbon-copy the entire project team without thinking twice? Do you reply-to-all when saying thanks to just one person? Just don’t! According to Harvard Business Review, the average full-time worker already receives between 120 and 150 email messages per day. Don’t unnecessarily add to their workload by forcing them to read or delete an email that doesn’t apply to them. Instead, be ruthless in deciding what your colleagues really need to know and target your messages only to those who need to see them.

2. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Be brief in email. It’s likely that your colleagues simply do not have time to read six paragraphs with bullets and sub-bullets that reference one or more of the various documents you’ve attached to the email. If you have a lot of information or context to convey, consider if a meeting or in-person discussion would be better. At a minimum, you should set expectations for what you expect the recipients to do with all that information (and when).

3. You are not a robot. 

Be honest. How much of your day do you spend in email? Cold. Lifeless. Email. Not every communication needs to be recorded for posterity in the annals of Microsoft Outlook. Pick up the phone or walk down the hall from time to time. You might find that those face-to-face interactions boost your energy level, lead to better relationships and quicker resolutions, and save you and your colleagues’ time in the process.

4. I emailed them nearly 10 minutes ago—why haven't they replied?

Email is not designed for immediate gratification. Plus, team and individual norms can vary widely when it comes to how long someone thinks is reasonable to reply to your email inquiry. According to Glassdoor.com, replying to a business email within 24 hours is common courtesy. But according to another survey, over 50% of employees expect a response to their emails within an hour. So what should be the expectation? The key here is open communication. Have conversations with your team, your manager and the colleagues you frequently email about your expectations and theirs and how to handle urgent requests.

5. “Per my last email…”

Sarcasm and passive-aggressive language has no place in the workplace, and you should avoid it at all costs in your business emails. Those not-so-subtle jabs may feel good in the heat of the moment, but they’re caustic to work relationships. Have you used any of these phrases:

  • “Just to reiterate…”

  • “Moving forward I would prefer if you…"

  • “Please let me know if I misunderstood…”

  • “According to my records..."

Formal phrases like these may seem harmless, but more often than not they are harbingers of a negative interaction (which may be accompanied by a string of lengthy email replies and escalations that will not yield a positive long-term outcome for anyone involved). Instead of crafting that perfect reply, take a deep breath. Let the email sit overnight or at least a few hours. Forbes contributor Rob Ashgar advises that you never use email as a way to avoid hard conversations. Pick up the phone. “Others won’t respect you,” he says, “if you initiate difficult conversations and confrontations over email rather than face-to-face or over the phone.”

BONUS! “OMG, I was like IMHO...”

Text abbreviations and emoticons are generally best left to the teenagers. That kind of claptrap and hullabaloo has NO place [shakes fist] in a well-constructed business email! Seriously though, if you’re emailing close colleagues—sure, the occasional smiley face to keep it light. But avoid watering down your messages—and your reputation—by freighting emails with unnecessary adornments that may be perceived as unprofessional.

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