The lists of no-no’s in life is fairly daunting, let alone in the business world. I think we all learned a valuable lesson last week in not disrespecting Asians with stereotypes in the name of your own foggy perception of manners and Americanism. Let us graduate to a more advanced level of manners to prevent a less addressed aspect of ridiculousness: e-mail formalities – particularly for the workplace. We’ll start with the trivial stuff and move onto the more flagrant email fouls and hopefully we’ll all come out of this a little bit more aware:
10) “FYI / FYA”
It’s lazy enough you need initials to replace “For your interest/action” on an e-mail, making me scroll through an entire email chain, article, or link to establish whether I actually do have interest or need to do anything is outlandish. Give a sentence or two and forewarn me what your sending me so I can be the judge. I could have saved myself two long minutes if you had said upfront that the article was about polar ice caps melting. Had you said upfront it was an amazing link to each of David Hasselhoff’s romantic links I wouldn’t have deleted like I do your other emails.
9) Signature Line
At the bottom of all your initiated emails should have your name, phone number and company. Having to skim through email chains and old messages just to find this dumb. Sure often I can skip to the bottom when you initiated the email chain, but when you started as a replier there’s nothing. No one keeps business cards anymore except to dispose old chewing gum onto.
8) Subject Line
Don’t leave it blank, this is annoying. It’s sloppy – plain & simple, and I think we can all agree. If it’s just a quick question, then say so on the subject line. Nothing fancy, just enough so I can distinguish your worthless emails from each other.
7) Reply History
For some strange reason, some emailers have chosen the option to remove the conversation history from response emails, ie the reply does not have the original message in which it is responding to. The logic in this will leave historians scratching their heads for centuries. In order to find out what you’re responding to, I now have to go into my inbox to look at a prior message – hopefully from today. Maybe you’re ahead of the game and cut and past excerpts which you’re referring to. Still not good enough. I want to know the context, what else I said, and maybe even you’re even quoting it right. Don’t make my life more difficult than it needs to be.
6) Proper Tone
Write to people as if they’re doing you a favor, even if its their job to do what you’re asking. How well you do this will determine if you’re request is going to the top or to the bottom of their current workload. Don’t leave it up to the reader’s imagination to guess your tone. When in doubt it’s always better to be too grateful than not enough. At the same time, don’t guess someone’s tone either – they probably just suck at writing emails as much as you do.
5) BCC (Part 1)
This a tricky one. The blind carbon copy is the CC line without the recipient knowing. Some people think they’re being slick by putting bosses on here. Your not, you’re being sneaky and whoever you put knows it. It doesn’t show you making anything official, it shows you don’t have a spine.
4) Over Under CC’ing
This is a tricky one; include too many and you risk annoying people, include to few and you risk people feeling personally insulted they were not worthy enough to be a part of the subject matter. This is a very subjective call depending on the topic and types of people involved. When in doubt, go with potentially a few too many as the outcome of the latter is the least desirable. Should you find yourself copied on emails you don’t want to be, politely (*refer to #6) ask to be removed, or – god forbid – take the .05 seconds it takes to hit the delete button and move on with your life.
3) BCC (Part 2)
There is one legitimate purpose for this and it’s the one hardly enough people use. When emailing people who don’t know each other or are from different companies, always BCC. It’s a curtiousy so a) there aren’t a million reply alls and b) I don’t end up on some spam list. Not a week goes by that I don’t get cc’d on some stupid email with 100 other people on it and get my inbox filled with “I’m in!” “Let’s do it!” and “Good Job!” from people I don’t know because they’re reckless with the reply all button. (This is to be addressed shortly)
2) The Power CC
This a crafty one: sender is either concerned recipient won’t respond or complete request, or wants to publicly chastise them so they’ll CC recipient’s boss to emphasis. I can remember a day when this seemed to make sense. Now I view this as many others do: amateur and childish. Most bosses ignore these all together, and often they’ll actually think less of the sender as they need to resort to catty tactics to get something done. There are a few instances where this is called for but mostly it’s poor form, especially if its the first email. This should always be a tactic of last resort.
1) Reckless Reply Alls
Like a Marine fresh out of boot camp , so many people go firing off without giving a thought whether they have the right target in mind. My company removed the reply all button functionality all together to much skepticism, including my own. Now I wonder why more companies don’t do it. For us, gone are the days when zero thought went into who on the cc line needs to be included. (well, almost at least) On personal matters, reply all’ing to invite emails with “I’m in!” “Sorry, can’t make it” etc should be a felony as previously mentioned. Just because the sender couldn’t follow rule #3 doesn’t mean you can’t show discretion.