8 email mistakes you might be making (and ways to fix them)
Salutations are fraught.
There are a few land-mines when it comes to beginning your email. One is that you choose the wrong salutation for your recipient.
‘Hey’ is informal and it suggests a peer relationship, which may exist only in your mind.
‘Dear’ is slightly archaic, but is appropriate in formal circumstances, to set a tone and an expectation.
No salutation at all is likely to be read as abruptness and rudeness. And “creative” salutations like ‘Greetings’ and ‘Salutations’ set you up from the outset as really hard work.
Nobody wants hard work when they approach their inbox.
‘Hi’ and ‘Hello’ and the safest all-round not-offensive salutations.
Emoji get their share of backlash, especially for their use in the commercial/professional communication space.
Like the exclamation mark, they can represent over-enthusiasm, puerility and playfulness not appropriate in a professional context.
But their power as a tool for softening a correspondence should not be underestimated.
Emotionally neutral emails are often read with a negativity bias. Emoticons are a quick strategy for investing your communication with pathos.
In personal and professional emails, use emoticons with discretion. Take the advice from author Terry Pratchett, “Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.” Same for emoji. Don’t overuse.
“ Email is not the place for showing off your fantastic figurative language skills. ”
3. Using abstract, metaphoric subject lines
Email is not the space for showing off fantastic figurative language skills. Recipients need to know quickly and clearly what your email is about.
Obscure subject lines are annoying and often ambiguous.
Save your flamboyance and recognise that the purpose of your communication is clarity. Provide your recipient with sharp subject lines that contain keywords relevant to the content.
4. Avoid open-ended questions
The problem with open-ended questions is they lead to discussions that might be better had in person.
Email is a real workhorse for communication. It wasn’t always like this, but with the rise of social networking, there are other online forums where complex debates and discussions can be had. And there’s always Skype for a dialogue exchange.
Ask questions that can be answered with specific answers and keep the philosophic dialogue for other online and offline spaces.
5. Not checking drafts
Attention to detail is important in written correspondence because language is inherently ambiguous. Incorrect grammar or spelling can change the meaning of sentences.
Read your drafts before you press send and use spellcheck.
6. Using unusual fonts
When you use unusual fonts, it implies you have too much time on your hands, you don’t want the recipient to understand your email or you are forfeiting substance for style. None of these are good.
Stick with the basics: Arial or Calibri.
7. Responding to emails when you’re angry (or drunk)
Evidence from neuroscience suggests that emotion interferes with the human ability to think straight. If you can’t think straight, how the heck will you write straight? Same applies for inebriation.
There’s this phrase we speak to our dog whenever he’s going for something he wants but shouldn’t have: like the neighbour’s cat. It’s “Leave it.” Say that to yourself, “Leave it.” Say it in a clipped tone that sounds like you mean business. Then go find something else to do. Have a sleep. Reply tomorrow. Leave it.
8. You write too much…
…in long, chunky paragraphs that feel like a burden for your recipient.
In his book How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says if you want to make friends, get people talking about themselves.
You’re much more interesting to yourself than you are to other people. So, back off and take an interrogative stance rather word barfing all over the page.
Also, when it is necessary to write at length, break it down into bite-sized chunks to make white space on the page so your writing doesn’t overwhelm.