Keep Your Work Emails from Being Misunderstood

Emails have a bad rap for coming across as defensive, accusatory, angry, frustrated, or even self-righteous. This is where I think emoji can come in handy. There’s a time and a place where it conveys the emotion you can’t see behind words. Often times we read an email from a colleague from our own emotional perspective. You could receive an email and think the sender is giving you a hard time, when really you are upset at them from a past transgression and are reading too much into an innocent statement.

Another example of email misinterpretation is using all CAPS. Most people equate it to shouting. “I NEED THAT NEWSLETTER DONE BY 3PM, OKAY?” (Side note: using all small caps can come across as lazy.) One word responses like “yes,” “no,” or “fine,” can come across as impatient or abrupt. And, there’s no one more annoying than the co-worker who has to include exclamation points at the end of all her emails, the one who flags every single one as “highly important.”

There’s also something to be said about picking up the phone and calling someone. Will Schwalbe, co-author of the book Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home says “Just because you receive an email doesn’t mean you need to reply by email.” Especially if you’re confused or upset. Schwalbe recommends scheduling a meeting or walking over to the person to discuss things and leaving email completely out of it.

Here are some workplace email etiquette do’s and don’ts to live by:

DON’T email anything without understanding it can get forwarded to someone else and come back to bite you in the butt.

DO go easy on the CC’ing key. Do you really need to keep seven people involved in a back-and-forth between just two people? Consider CC’ing on the first and last emails only. That way others know what the issue is and how it was/is going to be resolved.

Only jerks and sneaky tattletales use the BCC function in emails. DON’T be one of them.

DO exercise good judgment when it comes to your signature. Name, title, and contact info is fine. The latest picture of your cat, kid, or some whimsical quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is not.

DON’T call out a co-worker’s mistake and cc your boss on the email. See “jerks” and “sneaky tattletale” explanation above.

If your email is short (less than eight words) DO just put it in the subject heading.

Finally, career experts agree ending an email on a positive note can do wonders. “I appreciate it,” “Cheers,” or even “Thanks,” can go a long way. Try including it in your next business email.

And, a smiley face won’t wreck anyone’s day either.