Nearly everyone has a story of a mortifying email experience where they desperately wish they clicked the “undo send” button. From typos to unintentional reply-all snafus, we’ve all been there.
Following college graduation, I landed a job with a cool tech company. My first boss was a man named Bobby, and he was one of the more important/influential people in the office. I was lucky to report to him, and I was set on nailing my first impression. One morning, I drafted an email to Bobby and hit send with a swift click of the mouse. I literally thought nothing of it until I noticed he didn’t reply right away, like he normally did. Three hours passed, and nada. So I retrieved the email from my “sent” folder and re-read it to make sure my ask was clear. It was in that moment that I realized my fatal mistake. I had addressed the email to “BOOBY” instead of Bobby!! I was horrified. Luckily Bobby never said a word about it and eventually responded.
My typo that day taught me a lesson that I’ve carried with me ever since. We all could stand to get better with emailing, so here are a few tips I wish someone had given me!
1. Get to the point
First and foremost, you need to make your subject line simple and descriptive. We’re all receiving like 100 emails a day (yikes!) and to beat the competition you need to cut to the chase. For example, if you’re asking a colleague a question about an invoice, you could title the message, “Program September Invoice – Quick Question.” Making the “ask” of your message clear is equally important. What would you like to happen? What can I help you with? Deadline? Clarify these questions at the beginning of your email and you’re set!
2. Respond in a timely fashion
Not responding to emails within 24 to 48 hours can make you appear unreliable and irresponsible. In my industry, public relations, I try to respond to emails within five minutes of receiving them. The pace is incredibly fast-moving. There will also be occasions when you don’t have an answer to a question sent to you. You should simply let the sender know that you received their message and they can expect to receive the information they need by a certain date.
3. Be polite
Softening your tone in messages is a great skill that takes time to learn, and it’s especially important when it comes to deadlines. For example, instead of saying, “I need this by COB tomorrow,” say, “Would it be possible for you to do this by COB tomorrow?” This way the command softens to a question while maintaining the deadline. Also, as a general rule, don’t use ALL CAPS (no shouting!) in your emails.
4. Proofread before hitting “send”
Typos and alluding to attachments you forget to attach can make you appear incompetent. Keep in mind that your words are captured in writing and cannot be taken back after you click send, so make sure you proofread all parts of your email: the To/CC/BCC fields, subject line, and body. Adding a recipient’s email address is the last thing I do before sending a message.
5. Don’t email angry
Sending an email while upset is a major no-no. Bad news, firings, playing defense, and reprimanding others are all topics we should take some time to mull over before stringing sentences together in an email we can’t take back. Ask yourself if you would be comfortable having your email plastered on the front page of a newspaper before hitting that “send” button.
6. Pick up the phone
When communicating topics that are complex and warrant some level of negotiation, it’s always a good idea to discuss them over the phone. Attempting to do this via email can lead to confusion and too many questions. Phone calls also help build your relationships with others. I like to rotate my correspondence with colleagues between email, in-person, and over the phone.
7. Avoid sending one-liners
Have you ever been CC’ed on an email with a bunch of people who reply-all to say “Ok” or “Thanks” at the end? While polite, this kind of messaging is unnecessary for the entire group and will invite some serious side eye from across the office. A direct reply of “thank you” would be more appropriate. Something I’ve started doing in Outlook is clicking the “thumbs up” button in the upper right corner of an email when I like a thread. It’s just as effective and your sender will receive a notification of your “like.”