By Jeremy Willinger
Email is, for better or worse, a necessary tool for conducting business in today’s economy. Yet how many times have we received messages with misspelled words, terse replies, or no response at all to an important issue? Perhaps even more disastrous are the same flaws when they mar our email communications in business. Though email has supplanted all other modes of correspondence, we treat it as a second-rate form of communication.
This is a mistake that has long needed correction. Knowing that the rules of business culture extends to email in many different scenarios can ease your climb up the corporate ladder, or, in this economy, at least help to ensure continual employment.
While business etiquette conveys respect, a positive attitude, and a willingness to serve others, business email etiquette bypasses face-to-face interaction but still presents an opportunity to showcase the talent, eloquence, and skill that helped you land a job in the first place.
Using proper grammar and punctuation is a fundamental way to broadcast professionalism and intelligence. Email also calls for a proper form of address to all parties, with the right tone, concise clarity, and an appropriate sign-off at its conclusion. Thinking about the negative impressions sparked by a poorly written email should make us very deliberate in what we choose to send to our associates. This caveat applies equally to the many channels through which we access our email: from work, home, and on the road. Therefore, keeping emails as clear and courteous as possible is a responsibility each of us bears.
Mindful emailing also safeguards against potential problems. Companies frequently monitor email communication, and any email can automatically be retrieved long after it has been deleted or forgotten in your inbox. Emails are also admissible evidence in trials and terminations; they also serve as a digital footprint in all that we do. In other words, there is no such thing as a private or truly confidential email.
Proper email etiquette not only demands constant awareness of what we type, but how our words could be misconstrued. There is no extenuating circumstance or moment of madness that justifies expressing yourself sarcastically, or with quixotic “cuteness!” The best way to communicate digitally at work is to be direct and accommodating. The contemporary adage about not saying anything via email that you would not say in person certainly applies.
Email, while appropriate for scheduling meetings and marketing promotions and other nuts-and-bolts applications, should never replace a written note for personal expressions of thanks or condolence, or for formal announcements of births, weddings, and party invitations. It goes almost without saying that handwritten notes should be reciprocated in kind. And as with handwritten exchanges, there are rules of business email etiquette for turnaround times. With our ubiquitous access to email, we should respond to emails within 24-48 hours of receiving a message. Failure to respond promptly brands you as rude or disorganized.
Correct business etiquette demands that we acknowledge emails in a thoughtfully clear and concise manner by understanding the content and recognizing the tone of our writing - prior to sending. Only then will our business email be the productive and useful tool it was intended to be.