Considering that email is the primary form of communication in most offices, we don’t always choose our written words as wisely as we should. Especially when we’re trying to get through a packed inbox quickly or answer messages between meetings on our phones, it’s easy to be annoying, abrasive, or just plain rude without realizing it. With just a few words typed (or omitted), a quick email can go from a friendly message to a total disaster.
Well, it’s time for an email intervention. Here are a few of the most common workplace blunders we unconsciously make—and some quick-fix strategies to avoid them in the future.
1. The Subject is the Message
Have you ever received an email message with only a subject? Saw you’re on the phone—call me when you get a chance or Where is your month-end report? Yeah—and you probably found it off-putting, annoying, or both. Remember, whether you’re an associate or a manager, emailing and texting aren’t the same thing—and they never will be. And an email with a subject written like a text will always send the same message: You aren’t worth my time.
Quick Fix: We all have crazy days at the office, when you just need to touch base with a colleague or direct report without writing a novel. So don’t. Use a one or two-word subject like Meeting or Month-End with a quick line or two in your message:
Your line is busy, and I was hoping we could discuss your month-end report before end-of-day. Can you call me when you have a moment?
This approach will always and forever be worth the extra 15 seconds of your time.
2. Highlighting (and Capitalizing and Bolding) Important Details
When you have an important project or report you’re discussing via email, spelling out complete words in all capitals (I NEED your sign-off BY THE END OF TODAY) and highlighting, bolding, or underlining full sentences can come across as talking down to your colleagues.
I once worked with someone who would send me emails with NEEDS APPROVAL in red and all caps throughout her messages, or with full paragraphs highlighted in yellow. She was trying to be informative and call out important details—but her approach came off as overly abrasive.
Quick Fix: Use bold or italicized headings or bullet points to call out the important projects or points you’re making—and keep the formatting to a couple words, not entire paragraphs. If you’re worried your reader might scan through an email and miss urgent items, make sure you’re using an informative email subject, like Projects Due for Approval at End-of-Day. Finally, make sure you keep your emails quick and concise, which will make it more likely that the recipient gets all of the necessary info.
3. Replying All, All the Time
When you’re emailing a colleague back with a helpful hint or a detail that was overlooked in a previous message, hitting "reply all" can make friendly input or advice come across as condescending or competitive, especially when the person’s manager is cc’ed. (Copying someone’s boss on email with a correction is basically the same thing as giving her constructive criticism while her boss is standing right there—it’s appreciated by exactly no one.)
Quick Fix: If you have a suggestion for the sender, email her directly, ideally on a different thread so there’s no risk of accidentally hitting “reply all.” Better yet, pick up the phone! A quick phone call makes it easy to clear up the details—without the risk of offending anyone.
4. Signing Off Without Your Name
I know, when you’re rushed for time and powering through your inbox, it can seem like an unnecessary step to type out Thanks, Your Name, especially when your email signature is there. Well, do it anyway. Ending an email without your name is akin to walking away from a conversation without saying good-bye. It makes you look rushed and sloppy, and it’s rude.
Quick Fix: Add Thanks and your name to your branded signature, and set it up to auto-populate your email when you hit send. Signing off in a friendly, professional way will be done every time—without you having to do a thing.
5. Sending Emails That Aren’t Manager-Friendly
Sending emails you wouldn’t want your manager to see can put you in a professional bind if the email is forwarded. And yes, that should go without saying, but it still happens all the time. A friend of mine worked with a woman who complained about her in an email chain, and guess what? That email eventually ended up in her inbox.
Also remember that company email is company property and considered fair game if Human Resources decides they need access to your account. Candid advice to a colleague, complaints about your co-workers, or details on your weekend plans should never, ever leave your outbox.
Quick Fix: Be the consummate professional and pretend your boss is bcc’ed on every email you send. End of story.
Tell us! Have you ever made a big email blunder? What email etiquette do you always stick to—and what faux pas do you hate?