From the CEO to the entry-level new hire, we all struggle to manage our inbox — and our email issues appear to be only getting worse.
Tone, nuance and intent can be hard to convey over email. Perhaps that’s why companies report an increase in workplace etiquette breaches. What defines appropriate behavior in the digital age is evolving, but good manners will always be in fashion.
Here are five of the most common email issues and ways to deal with them to become a better communicator:
1. The silent treatment
Your boss still hasn’t responded to that perfectly crafted note you sent three days ago. What do you do? First, stop stewing about it. Your next move will vary depending on how urgently you need a response. Can you move the project ahead or come up with a solution on your own? If not, send a polite second email: “Wondered if you’ve had time to consider my request regarding…” Sometimes the boss has so many emails that yours may have gotten lost in the shuffle. Or perhaps pick up the phone or knock on the door.
2. The one-worder
The volume of our email may be rising, but the length of responses is undoubtedly shrinking. Mobile devices are making our digital communications shorter and less precise. If a cryptic one-word response just isn’t enough, don’t be annoyed. The sender was probably tapping away between or during meetings. Again, pick up the phone and go straight to the source.
Learn from these five tips if you think business writing is not your forte.
3. The too-big-to-send file
Don’t assume your correspondent can receive a big attachment. Send a preliminary note to check that it will get through on their system before you attach it. If not, services like Dropbox let you share large files through their servers. (Be sure to check your internal policies on this before uploading anything confidential.)
4. The off-topic offender
A back-and-forth exchange over days or weeks can mean the topic drifts from the one originally specified in the subject line. This can create email issues if you are corresponding with more than one person. If the discussion has moved on, make it clear what matter is on the table by changing the subject line to summarize it.
5. The impersonal touch
Everyone has a personal style. Some people appreciate a warmer tone, which often translates to more conversational written style. Others prefer that you get straight to the point. With some, attempts at humor can fall flat or get misinterpreted. Pay attention to the styles of others and adapt yours if necessary. Also, no matter what your opinion on using “reply all,” remember many do not appreciate being copied unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Beyond email issues that crop up in correspondence, a general one we all face is inbox fatigue. One final piece of advice: If possible, when you go on vacation, let yourself be out of the office, even electronically. Set up your out-of-office message with alternative contacts who can respond on your behalf while you’re out.