Mail Box

A heavy e-mail week has lead to this post! It is finally time to write up the most common e-mail mistakes, and how not to make them, with special thanks to Chris Butler and his post on e-mail etiquette, via Twitter.

These are my own experiences, add your own to the comments.

  1. Not putting a subject.
    • Blank subject lines are a productivity killer, especially if you use threading/subject sort to speed email processing.
    • FIX: Fill in the subject as the first thing you do. It will focus your mind before you write.
  2. Not attaching the attachment.
    • Unless you’ve managed to do this yourself, you probably think not attaching the attachment is subtle stalling tactic. The modern equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework’.
    • FIX: Attach the file straight after typing in the subject. If you click send too soon, all you have to do is send a follow up with an explanation. Slightly less embarrassing than not attaching the file, but only just.
  3. Missing someone one off of the to/cc or having the wrong person.
    • Incorrectly directed emails are a hidden productivity cost. If key people are missed off and out of the loop, incorrect decisions are made. If the wrong people are included, their time is wasted processing the email. I worked with a business once where it wasn’t unusual to have 20 or 30 people cc’d on a email. This just doesn’t seem efficient at all.
    • FIX: Look at the ‘to’ and ‘cc’ carefully. As a general rule, if it is informational for someone, put them on the ‘cc’, if action is required, add them to the ‘to’.
  4. Forwarding an email with a ‘sensitive’ email trail.
    • A real corker… The number of emails I have seen that inadvertently contained company confidential or compromising information burring in the depths of the email.
    • FIX: If the email goes off of the page (length), check what is there. Should it be an email anyway?
  5. Not setting context.
    • You have the context of your message, your recipients don’t, unless you give it to them. Information out of context is meaningless or misleading.
    • FIX: Take a moment to explain the context of the email, why you are sending it and a reminder or explanation of the background. It will transform the effectiveness of your email.
  6. One Line E-mails.
    • Mobile e-mail devices have a lot to answer for, and this is one of them. Composing the email in the subject line isn’t quite a crime against humanity, but it is a serious breach of etiquette. How are people meant to respond? It comes across as a rude command and can easily be misunderstood.
  7. No Clear Action and No Clear Information.
    • At least a few times a day, I receive an email that leaves me baffled. I don’t know what the person wanted me to do, or what they were trying to tell me. These emails are usually very long and appear to be painstakingly written.
    • FIX: Make your point, clearly. If you can’t, then pick up the phone and give the other person a chance!

Feel free to continue the list!

See also: Preventing the next foot-in-mouth outbreak.