Lately, I’ve been super aware of my email habits and intent on correcting the bad ones.
I attribute this renewed email awareness to three things: the end-of-year flurry of work that results in an overflowing in box, my recent work with a business coach (more on this to come in future columns) and the daily litany of women speaking out about sexual harassment at work. Why that last one? Some email bad habits seem to be committed more by women, causing us to undermine ourselves, and we need to look out for ourselves in every way personally and professionally.
I’ve compiled a list of email transgressions that I tend to make and see others commit. Here are the biggies — the nine email bad habits you need to stop right now. Don’t let them hold you back in 2018.
1. Using dull, non-actionable subject lines.
No more “Checking in,” says Melissa DeLay, founder of TruPerception, which handles reputation management for CEOs and business leaders. “Instead, use subject lines that inspire action, such as `Quick question,’ ‘Here’s the solution’ and ‘Who do you know?’ Always keep your focus on your need. This may improve your chance of getting the response you want.”
2. Apologizing and mitigating.
This is what I was talking about with women and email, and I’m not the only one. Kryss Shane, a licensed social worker, writer and public speaker, urges women to quit with the “I was wondering if…” or “I just think that…” or “I hope it’s ok to say this, but…” “Women are already dealing with sexism in the workplace,” she said. “Don’t make it tougher on yourself by making yourself sound meek.”
There’s also my favorite: “just checking in.” I’ve just checked in when people are past due on something they owe to me, including payment for services rendered. No more. And no more softening email asks with an exclamation mark. If you made a mistake or goofed in any way, apologize. Otherwise, just stop.
3. Not getting to the point.
This gets back to focusing on what you need. “People spend too much time ‘building up’ for emails with bigger asks,” says Jessica Kay, who writes a blog called “Cubicle Chic.” Ask what you want or need to know to start and then get to your reasons and background — briefly.
4. Being sloppy.
Fellow public relations pro and business owner MJ Pedone says getting emails with her first name misspelled (“How can that be when it’s only initials?,” she wonders) or grammatical errors makes her “skin crawl.” “Grammatical errors are horrific and are a total deal breaker for anybody trying to ask me for a job or a meeting. It’s not happening, and they get an instant block and delete!” Hey, MJ, I hear ya. You wouldn’t believe how many emails I’ve gotten address to “Any.”
5. Copying everyone all the time.
Writing coach Adam Halwitz warns: “When you tend to CC more people than you need to–or use the “High importance” marker without much justification–people start to think your e-mails are safe to ignore. Then you’ll have trouble getting your messages read when you really do need something urgently.”
6. Writing one email too quickly. And then another. And then another.
“One of my pet peeves is receiving emails that are written hastily and thus incomplete. Then they are followed by one or two or three emails that add more information to the first one. It creates an organizational mess, because then there are emails in between these, and you never have the one thought or topic all together. It also increases your chance of missing an important piece of the message!,” says Anita O’Malley, who owns a digital marketing and communications firm. Full disclosure: I’ve done this. But I’m working on it.
7. Being emoji happy.
This is from my business coach Rachel Sheerin. “Emojis are friendly and warm, yet almost always undercut your professional image. I rarely see men use them. I love emojis, so I always have to edit out my smiley faces in professional emails. If my words don’t say I’m smiling, the emoji won’t help!” What she’s saying has to do with a larger point, which is about “knowing your audience.” Before Rachel and I started working together, we never used emojis. We were deciding the scope of our work and signing contracts. But now that we are working together and know each other on a more personal level our emails are full of emojis. Still, there are some clients and business partners that no matter how long I’ve known them or how well the emoji will never be appropriate. Know your audience!
8. Using the wrong closing.
I’ve heard from a lot of people that my go-to sign-off — “Best” — is no good. It’s actually the worst, according to studies, including one by Boomerang that put all manner of “Thank you” sign-offs, including “thank you in advance,” at the very top in terms of response rate. I’m using “best” a lot less these days and opting for “Thanks” when it applies or other more specific closings, such as “Talk soon” or “Look forward to working with you.”
9. Letting email rule your day.
Email is a vicious beast. At best, you tame it, but you will never get ahead of it. You don’t need to immediately respond to every email chime. If you treat every message like it’s urgent, you’re just creating the unrealistic expectation that you will always reply within seconds. You have better things to do. Don’t create a bigger email monster.
Because we get so many emails every day, it can be easy to forget that how we respond speaks volumes about us and our value and merits. We need to make email work for us, not the other way around.