E-mails: Three things to remember when sending them to me (or to anyone!)

A few days ago I saw a message from an acquaintance that chastised people who used poor e-mail etiquette when contacting him. When I read this I so totally agreed with this that I vowed to write a post about it myself. So here is is…

There are a few things that you should pay attention to when e-mailing someone else, especially if it is a mail written for business purposes or to people who you don’t know so well. (That is, of course, not to say that you should ignore these rules of thumb when recipients are people who you know well.) I would like to give a few examples here:

Always cc’ing the entire world

There are some good people out there who for God knows what reason think the whole world wants to, needs to or has to read their entire life story, their frustrations, their needs… Most people don’t want to read mails that they are cc’d on, let alone need to. In fact, unless there is some kind of planning function going on where everyone should be aware of a meeting or something similar then most people actually don’t need to see the mail. When I am piled up at work the last thing I want is to look at the inbox and see one hundred plus e-mails piled up and waiting. I don’t have time to read all of this and it is an unnecessary hassle to go through the entire lot of them just to find the few mails that are necessary to read. Being unnecessarily cc’d to me is akin to receiving junk mail and I am sure that I am not alone on this.

One thing to think about if you are one of those who are guilty of cc’ing heaven, hell and the local tavern: Unlike junk mail, the recipients can see exactly who it is clogging up their workday with these round filers. And can you guess what will happen as this goes on? They will treat your mails with less and less urgency until in many cases your mails will either sit unopened or will be automatically deleted. If I’m lying, I’m dying!

Always automatically hitting ‘Reply All’

To me, this one is even worse than cc’ing the whole world. You are compounding the problem for everyone because the next insensitive monkey behind you will turn around and do the same. So now we have how many mails on the same subject that you aren’t interested in? This is how crap has babies. This is true “underling think” going on here. Not a high level of cogitation for sure. If I didn’t need to read so-and-so’s mail then why do I need to see five other people’s responses to it?

Expecting recipients to respond as if your e-mails are their urgency

I think it was Tim Ferriss who called e-mails “digital farts” and that by letting e-mails rule your day that you were being driven by someone else’s priorities. (If it wasn’t Tim Ferriss who said it then “solly!”) I couldn’t agree more with this line of thinking. E-mails should be malleable. They should be something that you can schedule in times to fit your day. But in today’s world most people. Think that you have to answer a mail within an hour (same business day is out the wind nowadays) and many will send you second and third reminders before the day is over – not even taking into consideration competing priorities, your own work schedule, time differences, etc. I might sound old fashioned when I say this but here goes: If it is urgent, go retro. Use the phone! Then the connection is made and everyone is spared anxiety, or at least the anxiety of unanswered e-mails.

All of the above cause undue stress in our offices and in our lives. If you follow these rules then I would definitely like to thank you. If you don’t, well, please give it a thought. Be polite with your e-mails. I bet you a dollar that your mother would be proud!

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