Imagine you are a gardener named Bob. You are sitting in a coffee shop enjoying a cappuccino and a snack. I walk up to your table and say:
I need you to come to my house tomorrow and prune my trees.
Then, I turn on my heel and leave. How would you feel about that? Not great I suspect.
How about if I walk up and say:
Bob – I need you to come to my house tomorrow and prune my trees.
Again, I turn on my heel and leave. Doesn’t feel much better … does it.
Let’s try this again.
Hi Bob … great to see you! Can you please come to my house tomorrow and prune my trees?
It’s a bit more polite, respectful, or dare I say civil. Wouldn’t you agree?
E-mailing someone should be no different. Along with being unresponsive, bad e-mail etiquette is at the top of my vexations list. E-mails should not be treated as a tweet or a text message. They should be written with care and attention. They don’t need to be missives but they should always contain a salutation and a valediction (adieu).
When I mentioned this on my wall in Facebook yesterday, one of my friends replied that these simple things we learned in English class in grade school are not part of the curriculum anymore in her corner of the world. Wow! We live at a time when we have more available methods of communication than at any point in the history of our species. You’d think it would be high on the curriculum list. It probably explains why I get so many emails like this …
I need a website built as soon as possible. Please call me ASAP at 111-222-3333
The e-mail has no signature and the Yahoo e-mail address has no obvious name. I call the number. I get reception. I tell the receptionist that I am calling because I received an e-mail from someone who needs a website built. She tells me that there are some 40 people working there and I need to be more specific. I give her the Yahoo e-mail address. She has no idea who that is. I thank her, hang up and then reply to the original e-mail politely asking for a name. I never get a reply. These things really vex me!
Of Tone & Substance
When I discuss this topic with people, something that occasionally comes up is that folks often misinterpret e-mails. Things are ‘read into’ the e-mail that simply are not there. I attribute this to the ‘tone’ or lack thereof of the e-mail. Going back to the first coffee shop example, Bob would probably wonder …
“Jeez … whats with HIM today?”
If he asked me why I was being so short (rude) and my reply was that I am in a hurry and have no time for hello and see ya later, I suspect my relationship with Bob would come to an end sooner than later.
A few simple niceties set the tone of an e-mail. Showing a little courtesy and enthusiasm is never a bad idea. Sadly, many e-mails I receive contain no hint of either.
But Gil, it takes too much time!
Please … Hi and Cheers totals 8 letters. Hope all is well or how are you, another 9 or 13 characters. Even at 1 keystroke per second, you’ll spend between 17 and 21 seconds.
What about in an ongoing e-mail thread?
Of course not. That said, I sometime do just out of habit. Better to err on the side of courtesy says I.
How about in ongoing daily e-mails from people I work with?
I suppose this becomes and style thing. If Bob and I have exchanged a few e-mails and he sends:
Ok … meeting is set for 9:00AM tomorrow.
Fair enough. My approach would be:
The meeting is set for 9:00AM tomorrow.
Looking forward to it!
Jeez Gil, aren’t you being a little bit ‘Emily Post’ here?
Perhaps I am. I was raised to be polite. To smile at people, even if they don’t smile back. To open doors for people. I was taught not to interrupt. If that’s being Emily Post, so be it. I happen to think that all of these qualities are important. I believe they lead to better communications and stronger, longer lasting relationships.
If you are a business person, having good e-mail etiquette, especially these days, will set you apart. It demonstrates courtesy, polish and professionalism. Three qualities that will serve you very well.
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