Etiquette | 'et * i * ket
: the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life (Merriam-Webster, 2021)
As leaders reaching out to our team members, it is both helpful and mindful of their needs to follow email etiquette. For those of you working in manufacturing (and increasingly other industries as well), you will be very familiar with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Etiquette is a bit like these SOPs, with a nice name. Following standards helps readers quickly identify the information they need, so they can gain and retain information efficiently. If your life is busy as a leader, the statement is also true for the people reading your emails. As a servant leader, try to help them by following etiquette. So let's dive in and take a look at email etiquette.
As they sang in Sound of Music let's start at the very beginning. The subject line is important. We will devote an entire blog post to this topic later in this series. In the meantime, work on your subject line. Does it reflect the topic you are addressing? Does the subject line include vocabulary that your reader recognizes? Is your reader going to open your email?
Open your email strong and professionally. Particularly if you are sending an email to a group of people, use an opening such as
Leave more informal greetings for your personal emails and text message exchanges with family. Emails are not private. Work-related emails are not private. Consider your word choice carefully from the greeting to the signature line; you never know who may eventually read that email.
Consider your word choice carefully from the greeting to the signature line; you never know who may eventually read that email.
Just as opening your email effectively and professionally, your closing is just as important. In particular, email with a new correspondent seeking to establish a working relationship is important. If you are uncomfortably with professional correspondence, try one of this as a closing:
Depending on the level of detail and work associated with my email, I often choose to "double dip" on my closing. I include an entire sentence thanking them for their time and attention to the matter. Then, I sign with "Warmly." Please note the bullet points reflect suggestions based the year 2021 in the Midwest. The list is not comprehensive. Signatures change with time and location. This list is regionally appropriate and acceptable. Perhaps your area or profession uses similar yet different words. Read the emails that come to you with a critical eye -- what can you learn or mimic from a mentor or colleague that you respect?
Dear Friends and Readers, it is 2021. You must know by now that the CAPS LOCK is the equivalent of shouting in an email. Please do not use it. If you are so upset by a situation that you feel shouting is the solution, I am here to share with you that no email is going to help you or resolve the problem. Pick up the phone. Put your feet on the floor. Go talk to the person. Problem resolution requires real time communication. Email does not fall into that category.
Leaders, we are working in a professional setting. The language of emojis changes very quickly. Do you understand how each identified generation (Baby boomers, millennials, Gen-Xers, Gen-Zers) interpret the emojis? For most professional emails, I recommend you avoid the emojis.
Similarly, I recommend you avoid excessive exclamation points or slammers. Anyone who has read an email or two from me will understand that this is my weakness. I really like exclamation points! I have been trying to amend my ways and relegate my slammers to text messages amongst friends. When it comes to professional communications, choose words to highlight your emotions and use the exclamation point selectively.
As leaders, we must understand the psychology of the written word. Many of us are not professional writers, nor do we have the time to spend on each and every email. Emails do not have the advantage of voice inflection and body language to convey their message. Even well-intended messages can come off negatively if not worded poorly.
Be cognizant that your readers may interpret the email with a negative twist. We started this blog series with the understanding that emails seek clarity and connection. Try to avoid communicating negative emotions and situations via email. When emotions are involved, aim for voice, video, or face-to-face.
Listen, humor is important. I have a sign hanging in my office that says, "Keep laughter on your to do list." I even have an active, personal campaign called, "#humpdayhumor." However, humor in professional communications should be used sparingly to not at all.
To be effective, humor must truly understand the audience. Humor is often a laugh at some socially off-kilter event, a mistake, or misunderstanding. What might cause one person to laugh might cause another to be offended. As servant leaders, we must closely understand these differences. Even if you are writing to a close-knit, homogenous group with the same type of humor, avoid humor in your professional writing. You never know when the email may get forwarded -- intentionally or unintentionally.
Consider who you are emailing:
Take care when using reply or reply all. Different email systems set up reply button differently, so be aware which is the default for your system. Use reply all cautiously and judiciously. As servant leaders, we want to consider our team members' time. Who truly needs the information and response?
Comment regarding bcc:. Please use this field responsibly. When email first came about, people were using bcc as a method of passively aggressively "telling" on people. This behaviour is not becoming of a servant leader. By striving for authentic, transparent communications that create connection, we build up our team members. Please use the bcc to protect members in a large, public email list.
Grammar matters. In professional emails, we owe it to our readers to consider the structure of sentences and paragraphs. Be considerate of their time by reading through your email one more time to check for typographical errors. Do your verbs agree with your nouns? Have you typed "the" twice while you were thinking and lost your place? Did the autocorrect misinterpret "I'm" and "in?" These are little typos, but the more important your email, the more important proofreading will be to your success.
My realtor tells me the three rules of realty are, "Location, location, location." Similarly, the three rules of writing are, "Edit, edit, edit." Is your message clear? Have you used words that seek to build a connection with your readers? Is it clear to you if this email is a CTA or CYA? Have you clearly summarized the CYA details with bullet point list? Have you included dates of targeted completion in your CTA email?
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