First impressions matter. It’s true whether you’re meeting the CEO for the first time or sending an email with a fresh idea to your project team. When you hit send on your email you want it to stand out for all the right reasons — a good idea, a well thought out plan, or a creative solution to a complex problem. To do that, you first need to make sure it doesn’t stand out for the wrong reasons — because it’s confusing, untidy, or unclear. In this Teamwork Training post, I’ll take you through some basics of email etiquette and equip you with a few rules and tools so the message of your email is what people remember.
Use the CC as your FYI: The acronym CC comes from carbon copy, a practice dating from long before emails when a piece of carbon paper was used to create
a duplicate of the original letter. The original then went to the addressed recipient, while any carbon copies went to other interested parties, informing them of the communication. Embrace the spirit of the original carbon copies when using your CC: look at the list of recipients, and if there are any whom you want to see your message, but from whom you aren’t expecting a response, move them to the CC field.
Introduce new people to the thread: Has your email with the Marketing Department veered into the world of design? Add members of the Design Team to the email thread, but make sure you introduce them and explain why you’re adding them. They are joining the conversation mid-stream, so your two sentence introduction will save them from scrolling through the email chain, trying to piece together why they were added. It will also save those already in the chain from any confusion on who was added and for what reason (who are Jody and Fred and why are they here?). It’s also just good manners. You wouldn’t jump up in the middle of a face-to-face conversation, drag in someone else, and not tell anyone whom you added and why. Treat your email like you would that conversation and make an introduction.
Order Matters: When populating your list of recipients, pick a system and stick to it — rank by seniority, familiarity, or alphabetically. While it may seem unnecessary — everyone’s getting the same email — having a clear system shows intentionality on your part and avoids any quibbling from Dan in accounts about why he’s listed after Amy in legal.
Err on the Side of Formality: If you're responding to an email, match the tone of the sender. If they are chatty and informal, it's okay to respond that way too. But if you're the one making the initial contact, take a formal tone — particularly with your greetings and signoffs. Avoid exclamation marks until you see one employed by someone else, and even then use them sparingly. For signoffs, try something simple and understated — "Best," is a good one — and stick with it.
Sometimes the best emails are the ones that are never sent. One of the core things that characterizes good email etiquette is knowing when to move a conversation off email to face-to-face. If the chain is getting convoluted, the subject matter is personal, or it would just save everyone time, it's best to not send an email and instead deliver the message in person. Because email makes it so easy to reach out to a number of people, it’s easy to forget that there are real people at the ends of those messages, and your email is fighting with dozens of others to get those people’s attention. Set your email up for success by following the basic rules of email etiquette and your well-groomed email will make a sparkling first impression.
This is part of Edgework Consulting’s Time Management Workshop series. Each Time Management Workshop post is bite-sized and designed to help you get more out of the hours you have. For more entries in the Time Management Workshop series click here.