Email Etiquette Tips fr: AMEX Open Forum – Can you commit to this in 2010?

Email Etiquette Tips
Dec 23, 2009

Email used to be charming – it was fun, it was easy, it was novel. Now email seems a lot more like a monster that we battle daily – one that gets hungrier the more you feed it.
To help streamline your communications in the coming year, we put together a quick cheat sheet of our own best practices for email etiquette. And, trust us, it’s not just about being more polite, it’s about being more efficient…

1. Communicate “action steps” first, not last.
It’s standard practice to begin an email by summarizing what happened at a meeting or during a phone conversation, then following on with any “action steps” that emerged. But this makes it easy for the most important information to get lost in the shuffle. By reversing this order – and listing actions steps first and foremost – you keep the attention on the items you want to draw attention to.

2. Use “FYI” for emails that have no actionable information.
Some emails need to be shared to keep everyone in the loop. But non-actionable correspondence should be labeled as such – so that it can be prioritized accordingly.
At the Behance office, we use a simple “FYI” tag at the top of all emails that contain information that you are not required to act on. It allows for easy filtering of non-actionable emails, whether by scanning visually or setting up a rule in your email client.
3. Never “reply all” (unless you absolutely must).
If you’ve received an email sent to a large group of people, do your best to avoid replying to all when you respond. If that person was qualified to send the email, typically they can be relied on to be the point person who collates the responses. Keep in mind: If using the “reply all” feature really seems necessary, you are probably having a conversation that would be better (and more efficiently) had face-to-face.

4. Tell them that you’ll get to it later.
If someone sends you an urgent email that you can’t get to that day, write them a quick note to let them know, specifically, when you will get to it. You’ll quell their anxiety, and save yourself a future nagging email from them.

5. Don’t make a habit of responding to backlogged email on the weekends.
Particularly if you are managing a group of people, choose your “email catchup” times wisely. While it might be convenient for you to respond to 10 backlogged emails from a team member on a Sunday afternoon, it may not be so pleasant for him or her to receive that email bomb from the bossman while they’re trying to relax. Always consider your audience.

6. Number your questions.
Like it or not, we’re all more distractible and information-overloaded than we used to be. If you’re not doing it already, it should be standard protocol to break out multiple points or questions as numbered items in all email correspondence. If you don’t, you risk having that customer or client only respond to the first question that happens to catch their eye. (And now you have to write another email to ask them about it again.)

7. Don’t send “Thanks!” emails.
If you don’t have anything substantive and/or actionable to say, don’t send the email. Refraining from sending the one-word “Thanks!” email is tough, because it can feel ungrateful. But at this juncture, we’re all probably more grateful for one less email.

8. Never write an angry or contentious email.
Email is a severely limited medium when it comes to conveying tone, which is why angry emails are never a good idea. More often than not, they just create more anxiety – and more email. Occasionally, writing an angry email can be therapeutic. If this is the case, get it off your chest, and then delete the email. When a confrontation is brewing, a conversation in person or on the phone is always best.

9. Be concise.
Initially, I had this point as: “write everything in the fewest amount of words possible.” So you see what I mean. We’re all crunched for time. Keep it short, and get to the point.

***This post by J.K. Glei is based on research by the Behance team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the 99% productivity think thank, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.

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