A human resources executive at a company named Carat recently committed the same boo-boo most of us have made at one time or another – sending an e-mail to the wrong person. But this mistake was colossal. The HR person planned to send detailed, inside-information about pending layoffs to senior managers. Unfortunately, the e-mail was accidentally sent to the entire staff instead and all the details ultimately landed in the media.
While I hope an e-mail error of that magnitude never happens to you, many business people regularly chip away at their credibility by committing one or more of the eight e-mail sins below.
Read these tips and always count to three before clicking “send.”
Be careful of emotion – Unless you are writing to thank or praise someone, stick to facts and information. Anger, reprimands, even lust do not belong in e-mails. They will be read over and over again by the recipient and likely forwarded to someone else. It’s best to use e-mail to convey important business information.
The dreaded “cc” line – Before you put a string of names in the “cc” line, ask yourself whether those people really need to know this information. The same goes for clicking “reply all.” If you become known as a serial junk e-mailer, your messages are less likely to be read or taken seriously.
Also, be extremely cautious about making accusations of poor performance while “cc’ing” others. Since you are about to embarrass someone and potentially hurt their standing, include only those people who are absolutely necessary. And be sure you are right. If the recipient feels the need to defend themselves, watch out for the e-mail response intended to clear their name. Bottom line: Skip the e-mail and have a conversation.
Writing quality – Yes, e-mail is more casual but what kind of message are you sending to business associates when your e-mails are sloppy, rambling and misspelled?
- Orderly, concise e-mails send a strong message about your competence.
- Get to the point. Tell people right away why you are writing and what action you want to happen.
- Use bullet points for easy readability. Number items to show priority.
- Use clear, meaningful subject lines.
Assume others will see it – Don’t e-mail it if you really don’t want others to see it. We’ve all seen messages forwarded when they shouldn’t be. Whether it’s accidental or intentional, the speed by which private information can be sent to the wrong people is astonishing. Instead, try writing a document and hand delivering it.
Appropriate business content – I have seen everyone from the receptionist to the CFO pass along inappropriate e-mails: chain letters, political jokes and those safety warnings that are always debunked by checking snopes.com. These e-mails may offend someone and your professional judgment will be questioned for sending them.
Should I send it? – We’ve all written an e-mail, usually in anger, and stared at it wondering if it should be sent. If you find yourself asking that question, the automatic answer is “no.” Walk away from it; better yet, sleep on it. You’ll return with a fresh perspective and will most likely reword the e-mail or not send it at all. I have a lot of personal experience with this one and trust me, letting time pass will save you.
Don’t hide behind e-mail – E-mail has become a shield for people who don’t have the guts to say what they should face-to-face. Your communication, understanding and credibility will improve ten-fold by tackling important issues in person.
Don’t rush – As the HR executive from Carat will attest, before you hit “send” make sure the e-mail is addressed to the right person – especially with Outlook’s tendency to auto-populate the “To” field with frequently used, similarly spelled addresses. Reread your work and use spell check.
Business people say a lot through the dozens, perhaps hundreds of daily e-mails they send. The question is: What do your e-mails say about you?