How many decades now have we been emailing? Actually, I Googled the answer and Australians started emailing in the early 1980s. For more than 40 years we have been emailing, and yet regularly I see people do the wrong thing.
Here are my top tips and suggestions for good email etiquette, whether you’re in business, involved in a community or charity group, or are an individual.
1. What’s the “To” field for?
Simply put, this is the field to whom you are sending the email. It might be one, two or more people, but often usually smaller numbers and usually one or two. For example, I might email two people to introduce them to each other – so both of them are in the “To” field, rather than one in the “CC” field.
2. So who do I “CC”?
CC stands for Carbon Copy (back in the day of typewriters where you had carbon paper (yes, I do remember that). It is often also referenced as “Courtesy Copy”. For example, you might be sending an email to one person, but you need a few other people “in the loop” and you want everyone to know who else is in the message and in the loop. This is usually a smaller group, of 2 to 10 and a great example is where you are confirming the details of an upcoming meeting and possibly including the Agenda.
3. When do you “BCC”?
This is also known as Blind Carbon Copy where the recipients cannot see who else is in on that email. This is often used for larger mailouts where potentially the recipients don’t know each other very well. Another purpose of BCC is to bring someone into the loop discreetly. Where using BCC is very important is to maintain confidentiality. A great example is that a professional body I was a member of sent a standard newsletter to their database and CC’d everyone, rather than BCC. There were more than 100 recipients in that CC. Three things, everyone now knew who was a member of that professional group (goodbye confidentiality) and secondly that list was attained by a spammer and we all were hounded incessantly. A third thing is that some people wrongly use the “Reply All” button – which I’m going to talk about next.
4. Think carefully before you click on “Reply All”
I’ve got to say that this drives me CRAZY! I belong to a number of community groups and the Minutes will be sent out CC. Some of the members will “Reply All” and say “Thanks” or “Ok”. So a dozen different people get yet another email in their inbox to open, read and delete because someone hit the “Reply All” for a reply message which has little relevance to them and is just a waste of time. Everyone’s time is super precious, so I ask – even BEG – that you don’t click on “Reply All” unless it’s really necessary.
5. Less is best
When it comes to email length a general rule of thumb is that if the email is more than 2 short paragraphs long, then it’s probably best a phone call first. You can follow up later with an email to confirm, but long conversations are just that, conversations, rather than emails.
6. Avoid the to-ing and fro-ing
Going back and forth is just a waste of time and is inefficient. For example, if I’m emailing appointment times for a business coaching session, I will always provide 3 or 4 options. That way, someone can just choose one and we are done. However, where possible, instead I’ll be on the phone with that person, asking if they have their diary open and determine a suitable time there and then. When I am emailing, it’s then just a confirmation.
7. Never email when you’re cranky
If you’re upset or angry, getting on that keyboard is not a good idea. Venting might give you short term satisfaction, but long term could cause you grief. If you really want to ‘vent’ then I strongly recommend you write the email and send it to yourself. Sit on it 24 hours and then decide if it’s a good idea to send, delete or reword substantially. If you are complaining about something and you swear or rant, I can assure you that you’ll get little result. However if you are professional and polite, and yes, even a little friendly, you are more likely to get results. Remember that you attract more with honey than vinegar.
8. Never deliver bad news via email
If you are reprimanding someone or giving negative feedback (or on a personal note, perhaps breaking up with someone) then don’t do it via email. These are the sort of things which are ideally done in person, via Zoom/Skype or at the very least, via the phone.
9. Watch your wording
When it comes to emails, be very careful with your wording. I’ve had my staff come to me saying that someone is giving them a hard go and I read the email and I see that it could be taken that way, or maybe there wasn’t anything in it. Here is a sentence which could be taken two ways: “You need to give me some notice”. Someone could take it that the person is cranky and annoyed they were given insufficient notice, or maybe it’s as simple as that they need some time to prepare and it’s a simple pleasant request. If you are on the recipient end of an email and are unsure, maybe it’s best to pick up the phone and clarify as you may be making something into a big deal, which was not. Also watch your spelling and grammar as well, especially if you are in business, or want to give a good impression (such as applying for a job).
10. Monitor attachment sizes
We all have different mailbox sizes with some quite large and others rather small. A good rule of thumb is to have your total attachment size no greater than 5 MB. I know my accountant I can push larger and will often cap to 12 MB. If I’m emailing say an eBook to someone I don’t know well, then I make the file smaller, say 2 to 3 MB in order to ensure it won’t use up all that person’s data. Sure, you can zip files, but not everyone has unzip software.
11. Consider attachment formats
If you are emailing an attachment, let’s say it’s a proposal, be sure to convert this to PDF format. This is for three great reasons. Firstly, a PDF is not easily edited. Secondly, it’s usually a smaller file AND most importantly, almost everyone has PDF reading software on their computer, whether they are operating a PC, Mac – old or new. Not everyone has Word, or Pages or even a compatible version to yours. A PDF is more global.
12. Think about spam boxes
For those of you especially in business, do not assume because you have emailed something that it was received. These days especially with strong spam filters, much ends up in spam and junk boxes. If I’m emailing a business coaching quote, then I’ll absolutely send a text just after I’ve sent it to say it’s been sent. Nothing worse than I promise to send a quote today, but the recipient doesn’t get it (because it’s in their junk box), thinks I’m a ‘slacko’ and moves onto the next business coach. That affects both reputation and business.
Sure, this was about etiquette, but good manners and good practices are always good business. Some of the above tips will help with your business sales process and generally ensure you are attaining best practice in your business. If you’d like to talk to me about business coaching, feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – love to hear from you.