Email Respect. It's Time.
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
Like many of you, I am trying my best to adjust to my virtual communication existence. And frankly, I am concerned by the tone, frivolity, and lack of common courtesy within many of my current inbox occupants. Everyone deserves a little email R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Here are 14 email courtesies we all can adopt. A few of the tips are variations of those in Chris Anderson and Jane Wulf’s 2011 Email Charter:10 Rules to Reverse the Email Spiral. The benefits of all of these are based on my own experience.
1. Leverage the Subject Line. The subject line is valuable email real estate. To show our respect for our recipients’ time priorities, it is thoughtful to begin the subject line with an email sensitivity category such as FYI, Response Needed, Urgent or Low Priority. It is best to follow that with a succinct and clear statement of what this email addresses.
2. Remember to say Hello. If I receive an email without a personalized greeting, my name and a hello, I think it is no different than the writer commanding me to ”do this or do that” and I find that impolite. I try to begin every email I write by addressing the person or persons by name in the first or second sentence. If I am addressing a group, I may say “hello everyone” or “hello team”. As the owner of a name with a unique spelling, I want to respect how each person spells their name, and double-check to confirm auto-correct is not erasing my carefulness.
3. Front-load the Important Info. Out of respect, we need to quickly get to the point. In the first 3 lines of our email, the recipient should know what we need from them or what they need to know.
4. Keep it Short and Sweet. We show respect when we write succinct emails. When I open a very lengthy email, I can feel my eyes glaze over. Keeping it short and sweet will take more time on our end, but it will be worth it in the respect we earn in return.
5. Break it Up. Incorporating white space into the body of emails makes them more readable and helps the reader focus. I know it does for me. I compose shorter paragraphs, or sometimes a single, but important sentence, before skipping a line and to the next item. I also use bullets and numbers to make it more readable.
6. Make it Easy to Respond. Instead of open-ended questions like “thoughts?” and “how can I help?”, it is far kinder to provide the reader with some possible options. If we have several questions, I number them. Numbers are better than bullets so the recipient can say: “yes to items 1, 2 and 5 and no to the rest”. When appropriate, I ask the recipient to respond directly in the body of the email next to the applicable question. This provides greater clarity and saves us both time.
7. Update the Subject Line. When, at any point, the focus or time sensitivity of an email chain changes, let’s change the subject line accordingly. I think we all know what it is like to hunt and peck for the precise email when there are so many with the same subject. I also will use a change to alert the sender. For instance, I may change the subject to “decision time”, when there has been sufficient email chatter on the subject.
8. Avoid Curt Replies. I am not a fan of one-word email replies. I know we are busy, but simple responses like “OK” or “sure” or “sorry” or even “thanks” can mean something completely different based on the tone in which it is received. And it is the tone in which it is received, not the tone intended by the sender, that matters.
9. Temper Unnecessary Responses. We do not need to respond to every email. Thank you, does not necessitate a “you’re welcome” response. And opening each unnecessary response just cost someone another 30 seconds.
10. Pause Before Hitting Reply All. I find myself on the receiving end of many emails sharing an interesting article or a piece of good news with a large group. Every time, it seems like an inordinate number of people reply all with their own “great article” or “thanks for sharing” response. I know I am frustrated if I waste time opening each one of these unnecessary responses to make sure there is not a new piece of information. I think the respectful thing to do is to just reply directly to the sender, if at all.
11. Add contact info to every email. If I receive an email that I believe warrants an immediate phone conversation for clarity or to run interference, I want the sender’s contact information handy. For that reason, all of my emails include my signature with contact information. The email signature can certainly be a condensed version for replies and forwards with just our name and phone number.
12. Use Attachments Thoughtfully. There are several ways we can be more respectful in our use of attachments. We can avoid using graphics files as logos or signatures because they will appear as attachments that the recipient may waste time opening. We should be wary of the size of our attachments. If we keep them to under 10MB, we are less likely to clog the sender’s inbox or cause undue delay. Finally, when we are sharing text via email, it may be kinder to include it in the body of the email, rather than as an attachment. That way, it is easier for the recipient to review on the go and clearly respond to with questions and edits. .
13. Reread Before Sending. It is our responsibility to assure our emails make clear sense, spell all names correctly, convey the intended tone, and are free from typos. This is also the time to confirm we have included the proper email recipients and not the wrong “Brad”. By doing that, we not only assure our content does not fall into unintended hands, but also that “other Brad” is not bombarded with emails he has to open because of our mistake.
14. Respect Time Boundaries. When we are working remotely, time boundaries are becoming blurred. Let’s show respect by trying to keep to the confines of what used to be standard office hours and days, in terms of when we contact each other for work, but more importantly, when we expect people to respond. I recommend “no rush”, “fyi only” or “NNTR” (no need to respond) in the subject line so recipients do not feel compelled to even open the email after hours.
This seems like the ideal time to improve our communication skills and be thoughtful about every email we send. When we improve our email communications to show that we respect the recipient and the recipient’s time, we will earn greater respect in return. And that is a win-win. To expand your communication skills even further, contact me here to get started.