10 Rules of E-mail Etiquette

Some ground rules for the medium we use so much.

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Since E-mail is not going away any time soon, it makes sense to develop some ground rules for its usage. Here are 10 that I try to follow:

1. Do not use E-mail for sensitive subjects or topics that may be especially susceptible to misinterpretation.

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2. Do not use E-mail if you are having a difference of opinion with the other person. It is very easy to come across as curt or uncaring in an E-mail message. Schedule a meeting with the person or pick up the phone.

3. Scrutinize the tone of your E-mails. Recognize that the receiver cannot hear your tone of voice and may not spot irony or humor.

4. Don’t put anything in an E-mail that you wouldn’t want to read on the front page of the newspaper or while sitting on the witness stand.

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5. Be wary of forwarding E-mails unless you are certain that the sender would not mind if the message were forwarded. I’ve received forwarded E-mails that contained some rather personal comments in addition to the business content. I doubt if the author of the original message wanted me to know about her family situation.

6. If you want an E-mail to be regarded as urgent, then label it as such. Regard non-urgent messages the same way you’d regard regular mail and don’t expect a reply within hours.

7. Beware of using text messaging abbreviations with people who might find it to be unprofessional, confusing or abrupt. I recently received an E-mail from a customer service department that was written in “textese.” I thought it was funny but not everyone would have that reaction.

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8. Unless the person is on the other side of the world, the fewer messages, the better. If you need to communicate so much with someone who is just down the hall, go see the person.

9. Beware of rushed messages. Those are the ones you are most likely to regret.

10. Forgive notes that seem unpleasant or out of character. We all have days in which we need people to cut us some slack. Unless it is extreme, don’t let one note ruin a relationship.

Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.


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