A to Z of Soft Skills: E for Email Etiquette
When I asked people to guess what E might stand for, I got a lot of answers! Emotional Intelligence. Etiquette. Empathy. Someone said Energy – inner fire. (I’m not too sure if I can roll my eyes on a formal blog but you get the point!) I did have most of these on my list of options too. But people who know me also know what a stickler I am for rules in writing. And I also know from a zillion email writing classes that I have conducted that some basics beg to be reinforced. Again. And Again. And email etiquette is something that still has a long, long way to go! And as a communication trainer this is something I can’t stop preaching about! So here are the reminders, again!
Why is email still relevant and important?
I had conducted a poll on Twitter some time ago about the importance of emails and the results rated it quite low. Emails seem to be pretty much out with whatsapp and other new media. But I’m still skeptical – is email on its way out? Going by the number of emails we get every day, I don’t think so. To set some perspective to this discussion, email etiquette is still an important thing to follow. Especially so for the new gen(eration) of employees who pretty much live off short messages on Whatsapp and social media.
Yes, we have Whatsapp groups and social media platforms where we can keep our team and clients engaged, but I still believe that real work happens on email. From sending proposals to new clients to apprising your seniors about the progress of a report. It could be responding to complaint mails from a customer or motivating emails to your team – each one banks only on your language to make the desired impact. A shoddy email can do its job only that well. And that’s why I feel that email writing is still an important skill worth learning.
I have discussed email writing at length on this blog covering all the relevant concepts. But I’d like to talk about a few new points and reinforce some age old wisdom! And so, in no particular order, here are tips to improve your email writing:
Work on your writing skills: I’d like to start with this because that’s what is lacking in all bad emails. And it is this deficiency that makes our emails a pastiche of borrowed phrases. (More coming up later) Either we did not pay attention in composition classes in school or got too carried away with the one liners of social media messages. Whatever the reason, emails aren’t an excuse for bad writing.
Get your basics right and see the huge difference it’s going to make to your mails – complete sentences, thoughts broken into paragraphs minus the staple borrowed phrases. (Cant wait to get to these)
Understand formal style from informal: Going by the kind of some emails I get on Linkedin, there seems to be a huge confusion about this. I myself am confused whether the email feature of Linkedin actually doubles up as chat. (This in itself is quite confusing) But then I err on the side of formality just to make sure I don’t sound casual to my business contacts. One word/one line mails or leaving just your number for someone to call back (I’ve got such emails and expect me to call up!) are very informal. Would you speak to someone like this? Then don’t write that way either.
(Redundant phrases start here)
Do the needful: Well! Indians aren’t just the inventors of Zero! We invented the phrase, “Do the needful” too! And as I see it, it is worn out and ailing due to overuse. A sentence that has absolutely no purpose in an email.
The next time you feel like writing, “Do the needful”, please don’t. How about replacing it with a line of what actually needs to be done? If you’ve explained it in the email, don’t say anything else. Think about it! Just because someone said this in an email because of lack of language skills and passed it around the world, you don’t have to do the same.
Please revert: I still don’t know how to do that. I can reply, respond, answer, get back or actually send the information asked for. You see my point! Please retire this phrase too. So overdone!
“Dear… : If I got a nickel for every time I’ve had an argument in this in my sessions, I’d be rich! I don’t think we are in the 1960’s or emails are meant to sound like school letter writing exercises. More importantly, the client, my boss, the person I met last night at the networking meet or my prospective employer are not dear to me! And I will not address them that way. Hi and hello work well for me. And will for you too if you understand that people don’t like being called “dear” and “Hi” doesn’t sound rude.
Personalise emails: I mean primarily emails where you’d shoot a “Thank you” or Confirmed” and that’s it! How about add the name of the person? “Thank you, Brian!” sounds so much better, doesn’t it? How about adding another couple of words to actually convey that you mean it – Thank you, Brian! Appreciate your help! Easy peasy! And yet so much better than just perfunctory words!
Proofread: My absolute favourite! As if to err wasn’t human enough, we live in this fast paced world where we email, messaging, Whatsapp, tweet and Snapchat pretty much all at the same time! But then you might argue what’s a little punctuation, eh! Well!
There is so much one can say about the art of writing well – and yes, it applies to emails too – but I am sure we can work around these practical tips to make our written communication better. Do you have any pet peeves about emails you get? I’d love to hear them and maybe update them in this post – with credits to you. Why not learn from all your experiences too!