By Members of Forbes Coaches Council
Email is an excellent way to get the word out. You can send messages inside the office to a wide number of people or send a well-thought-out memo to a single person.
But email is often misused for its purpose. It’s far too easy to crack a joke that comes across poorly or send out an angry message that you regret, usually within a few seconds of sending it.
Even when not dealing with emotions, emails can run counter to their purpose. A message trying to schedule a meeting can draw a long chain of responses, not all of which are to the most recent message in the thread.
A similar problem exists when seeking solutions from a group. Some discussion via email is, of course, good, but there’s a threshold that’s quickly crossed between a five-minute response of “hey, this might work,” to a lengthy debate that’s far better settled in a group meeting.
Forbes contributors: shown above from left to right/top to bottom: Lori A. Manns, Eddie Turner, Susan P. Joyce, Jenn Lofgren, Kamila Gornia, Erin Urbin, Tina Forsyth, Deborah Hightower, Niya Allen Vatel, Nancy Marmolejo, John M. O’Connor, Joanne Markow and Hayward Suggs.
1. You Don’t Quickly And Clearly State The Topic In The Subject Line
Email is the No. 1 method of communication used in business, yet many emails are never read. To ensure your email is read, state a clear message in the subject line. The subject line should state in 10 words or less what your email is about. If your subject isn’t clear and enticing, your email may not get noticed. Be sure to never leave the subject line blank.
2. You Write Long Emails
Professionals should avoid long emails when possible. If you find yourself writing a lengthy email, it’s probably a signal you need to have a phone call or a face-to-face meeting, so instead of a lengthy email, send a calendar request. There are times — due to the need for clarity or legal requirements, for instance — where a lengthy email is simply unavoidable. If not, send short emails. Remember less is more!
3. You Share Secrets
Every email can be shared literally billions of times. So don’t send anyone your greatest secret, or even something very confidential. Even if the recipient respects your need for confidentiality, the message may be accidentally shared or seen by someone who shouldn’t see it, or who will share it. Email is excellent for documenting agreements or understandings, but it is tricky to use for secrets
4. You Don’t Give Hard News In Person
You should never give hard news or share tough decisions through email, yet it happens all the time. Doing so breaks down trust and doesn’t allow you to be present for the other person as they receive the news. Instead, you should write to them asking to set up a time for a meeting, ideally in person, but if needed, by phone.
5. You Say ‘Just’
Using the word “just” in your emails takes away from your leadership communication, making you sound apologetic or deflective. Professionals use “just” frequently as a buffer so they don’t sound aggressive, demanding, or overly controlling, when in reality all it does it take away our perception of confidence and leadership.
6. You Shout
For those individuals who believe in excessive emphasis: Caps lock is not your friend. No email should CONTAIN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Stop shouting! It’s rude, unprofessional and condescending to your readers. There are other methods to create emphasis without an over-utilization of capitalization.
7. You Use Excessive Exclamation Points
I ascribe to the “one ‘!’ per email” rule — anything more can come across as unprofessional and hype-y. Let go of the exclamation points and use your words instead to relate your enthusiasm.
8. You Try To Be Funny
Written humor can go wrong on so many levels. It’s best to leave it out unless you know the recipient very well, and then approach it with caution. The punchline may be funny in person and in the moment, but get lost in transmission. Professionalism in all ways is of the utmost importance to establish or maintain credibility. Once you hit the send button, content control just left your hands.
9. You Use Emojis
Teenagers aren’t the only ones writing in text short form. Believe it or not, young professionals are using emoji in professional emails. Leave the emojis and personal emotions out. If there is an issue to address, explain how you feel about it without coming across as if the person is attacking your character. Ask to further speak in person to avoid things from getting lost in translation.
10. You Ask ‘When Do You Want To Meet?’
Sending a message with “when do you want to meet?” can create five more emails between people trying to find a meeting time. The simple act of listing your open times and days or using an online scheduling link prevents the burden from being tossed onto the next person. It saves time and eliminates aggravation.
11. You Make A Demand, Instead Of A Request
Email can be so misinterpreted, so I recommend that if you want to make a demand, change it to a kind request. Starting an email with “Would you be willing to help me with…” or “Could you give me a perspective on…” is so much different than “I need you to give me…” or “I want you to stop…,” for example. Find a way to ask gently, because demands raise concerns and blood pressure, and put people on the defensive.
12. You End Your Message With ‘Thoughts?’
Often leaders provide a statement, proposal or solution by email, then end it with “Thoughts?” to gather your input via email. It’s painful when there are more than a few people on the email chain who then each add lengthy opinions to the email. If you’re seeking feedback, replace “Thoughts?” with a request for a Skype or phone call, or find us in person directly and take a walk to a different floor.
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Forbes Coaches Council
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