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8 Habits of Highly Ineffective Emailing

Mail

Of all the possible uses for a computer, email is probably the most pervasive (perhaps second only to regular web browsing). From Bill Gates to your Aunt Betsy, everybody’s got an email account these days, possibly multiple accounts. It takes very little effort or know-how to get an email address, and there are literally hundreds of free web-based email services available. It’s easy as pie to send a message halfway around the world in a matter of seconds. That kind of thing is pretty incredible, if you really think about it.

But, alas, many bad habits have crept into the world of email over the years. So many in fact, that (if you ask me) there are things you can do to so badly sour your recipient to your message – they’ll never read the whole thing (or maybe even delete it without ever opening it). Honestly, I’ve deleted many, many emails simply because of infractions like these. Read on for what not to do when sending an email…

  1. Saying Way More than is Necessary – This is one you won’t know the message has committed until at least a third of the way through it. If you find yourself thinking “for Pete’s sake, get to the point…” – you’ve got one of these messages. You see, many people like to treat email like a lazy Sunday afternoon conversation over mojitos – they drone on and on, giving you details and subplots that are only somewhat relevant (and decidedly unnecessary). If you’re a bit of a stickler like I am, these get round-filed with the quickness.
  2. Straying Wildly from the Topic – When the email subject reads “TPS Report Cover Sheet Format” and half-way through you’re reading about Tom’s lunch plans or the new policy on chewing gum in the break room, you know you’ve found one of these jewels. If the author of the email can’t be bothered to formulate a coherent message, a pox on them and their message. Shift+Delete (bypasses the ‘Deleted Items’ folder in most email programs – use with caution).
  3. Send an Email that’s Completely Unnecessary – These are probably my biggest pet peeve of all. Emails that consist of reciprocal greetings or acknowledgments that are just a waste of server space. For example, Ted emails me asking if I can send him the latest office phone list. I send it to him and 10 seconds later I get an email that contains nothing but “Thanks!”. While I understand he’s just being polite, that’s another message I have to read. (I know this may come off as somewhat prick-ish, but you wouldn’t believe the amount of email I get like this). Obviously, If Carl from Facilities donates the bone marrow that helps you beat that pesky cancer, a “thank you” is probably in order – in addition to some flowers or free yard work. Otherwise, just let me get back to work.
  4. Not Answering the Question You’re Asked – A bit less common, but still a regular occurrence in my inbox. I emailed Bill asking how many times he broke his foot in the last year and he might respond with “Well, garsh, I’d have to ask my insurance company or my wife lol!” (even though Bill knows perfectly well it was 4 times). If somebody asks a question, just frickin’ answer it, please!
  5. Making No Effort to Punctuate the Message – “this is no good when are we going to fix this problem i can’t work like this”. I kid you not – it happens to me almost daily. I’m not expecting proper use of a semicolon or any other graduate-thesis-level stuff like that, but a period at the end of a complete thought might be kind of nice. This is typical of people who aren’t touch-typists and spend all of their typing time looking at the keyboard. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but taking a few seconds to go back through the message and add some punctuation will make the recipient much more inclined to take you seriously.
  6. Walking Over to the Recipient 10 Minutes After Sending the Message to Make Sure They Got It – I realize there are certain people who still don’t fully trust “technology” as a whole. They don’t like buying things online, they think every time Windows hiccups it’s because a hacker has taken over their computer and is now using their credit card to finance a trip to Tanzania. That’s all fine, but folks – I implore you – please have some faith in the email system at work. I realize that occasionally emails get lost, but that’s not reason to personally verify the delivery of each and every message you send.

    And, on a separate but related note, coming over to ask if I got your email because it’s very important doesn’t work well, either. The beauty of email is that it’s asynchronous. You can send me a message and I’ll read it when I have time, not necessarily the moment you send it. Just let me do my thing and I’ll read your message the very next chance I get, cross my heart. Oh, and if it’s an actual emergency – please, by all means, run over to my desk – but feel free to skip the email.

  7. Leave the Subject Line Blank – This one also grinds my gears pretty well. Unless I know the email is coming and we’ve already talked about it, add a freakin’ subject. It doesn’t even have to be anything terribly descriptive: “Telephone Call” or “Basketball Game”, while terribly vague, at least give me some indication what the email will be about. A blank subject reeks of laziness and is deserving of a swift “Mark as Read”, if you ask me.
  8. Set the Priority to ‘High’ on Every Single Message – Ever heard of “The Boy Who Cried ‘Wolf’”? Same deal. If you think that I automatically jump to read every email with this indicator, you’re sadly mistaken. In fact, I’ll probably just roll my eyes and move on to the next email. Maybe I’m just jaded, but if an email is that important, maybe it ought to be a phone call or an in-person visit. But believe me when I say that, personally, I judge these messages very harshly and will often completely ignore them if they don’t present a situation that is actually of “high priority”.

I know I’ve been guilty of a few of these from time to time, but there should definitely be more care taken when writing and sending an email. After all, people have been convicted and sent to prison based on the contents of emails – would you want the jury to see the email you wrote that said “lol” in it?

(Apologies for the somewhat-agitated tone of this post – it was written after a very rough day at the office :) ).

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