10 Tips for Email Etiquette

Business etiquette encompasses much more than simply knowing how, when, and whether to hold a door open for someone. It is increasingly vital to polish and hone your e-mail etiquette skills. 

One gaffe or misstep could mean losing an account or personal embarrassment. With more businesses across the world connected to the Internet and relying on e-mail, knowing “netiquette” is important – and could make or break a business relationship.

More professionals are relying on e-mail. Often it’s a much faster way to make contact and get a call back. But if you don’t know the proper etiquette to on-line correspondence, you could be closing the door before you even get your foot in it.

Here are 10 tips to remember:

1.  Watch your words! You may think that what you say is easy to understand, but sometimes words can be misconstrued. Be concise and to the point. This will eliminate the need for costly long distance phone calls to follow up on e-mails that need further clarification.

2.  No negative comments, but delivering bad news sometimes OK. If you use antagonistic words or critical comments – known as “flames” in cyberspeak – it can hurt people and cause awkward situations. E-mail is not the place to make negative comments. However, it can be a good way to avoid face-to-face encounters when bad news must be delivered. Typically, bad news is shared with more accuracy through an e-mail vs. an in-person encounter because no "sugar coating" of the news is done – just the facts. Sometimes, however, delivering bad news in person is better – it shows that the messenger cares about the recipient's feelings when reading the news.

3.  Remember, few people like “spam.” When sending unsolicited e-mails, make sure that there is value to the recipient. If you don't, they may very well consider it “spam” (Internet lingo for junk mail), and delete it unread. Whenever possible get the recipient’s permission, or at least ensure that they know the e-mail is coming.

4.  Nothing is private. Never forget that there is no such thing as a private e-mail. Even when a message is deleted, many software programs and on-line services can access messages on the hard drive.  Before you click on “send,” consider what may happen if the message is read by someone else -- like the boss. The general rule of thumb is do not send personal or confidential e-mails. Better safe than sorry. You certainly wouldn’t want a client’s secrets revealed or your off-color joke to be read by the wrong person.

5.  Keep attachments to a minimum. The larger the attached document, the longer it takes to download and the more memory space it fills on a recipient’s computer. Some e-mail attachments may not be necessary. Consider faxing lengthy documents that might otherwise be e-mailed. Or, if time is not really an issue, use regular mail services, UPS or Federal Express.

6.  CC Or Not To CC? Just like a regular memo, you may want to send copies of your e-mail to others in the office or other clients as "FYIs." The same guidelines apply about flames and spams. 

7.  Never assume anything.  While you may be an Internet pro, and familiar with the lingo and various emoticons (like the popular smiley face  :-)  and others), don’t assume the recipient is. 

8.  Think twice before hitting "reply to all."  When you are one of multiple e-mail recipients, consider who really needs to hear your response. It probably isn't necessary to hit the "reply to all button." Most often, the original author of the e-mail is the only person to which you need reply.

9.  If your message doesn't need a response, let the recipient know. This can save time -- theirs and yours -- and stop the cycle from continuing on in perpetuity. Say something like "No reply necessary" at the end of your message or even in the subject line.

10.  Don't send e-mails that simply say "Thanks." Another are e-mails that just say "OK." These one-word replies are no better than spam. Anyway, remember that even in this digital age, nothing replaces an in-person "thank-you" message or handwritten note.

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by Marjorie Brody,

Marjorie Brody, MA, CSP, CMC, is author of 15 books, including her new book, Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move?, Speaking is an Audience- Centered Sport, and Professional Impressions … Etiquette for Everyone, Every Day. She has appeared on CNBC several times, Fox-TV, Oxygen Network, and been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, People, Glamour, BusinessWeek, Fortune and many other national publications. Her Jenkintown, PA-based training corporation, Brody Communications Ltd., connects people to potential by offering customized seminars, coaching and keynotes focusing on communication, presentation skills and leadership. Visit www.BrodyCommunications.com or call 800-726-7936.

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