Before you hit send: The Trouble with Email (Part I)
Updated: Oct 11, 2019
Email. So seemingly simple and yet so ripe for bugging the crap out of our colleagues and clients. It may now be considered old school in favor of Slack and alike, but email is not going away anytime soon. It still provides us that ‘Thank God I don’t have to get on the phone with you’-relief. It still allows us to express our genius uninterrupted. It’s a note-taking standby. Easy. Comfortable. From the office. From our phones. From our laptops. Always there … tempting us to hit send.
But, before you do … Pause.
We’ve got some issues to deal with. We’ll get to the all-important email Tone Conundrum (dun dun dun) in Part II, but for now, let’s reflect on some common pet peeves when it comes to email. I didn’t struggle to come up with this list. It only took about five minutes after reaching out to some of my favorite leaders. Yep. That tells me email clumsiness is rampant in the working world.
1) “Reply All”
Ahh, the inappropriate “Reply All.” This email option seems to strike fury within even the most patient of souls.
Said one colleague, “It drives me crazy when someone responds to a group via "Reply All" when the response is not relevant to the larger group. And then someone responds (via “Reply All,” of course) to let the first person know they shouldn't have used “Reply All.” And then someone else responds via “Reply All” ...
It’s a vicious circle (especially if that happens in a listserv).
Another colleague griped about people that use “’Reply All’ to simply say ‘Thank you!’ or ‘Okay!’”
Here’s a tip: As the initial email sender, you can avoid this problem by blind copying the distribution list.
2) Subject line miscues
Outside of those oh-so-catchy, never-off-putting marketing email subject lines, it seems people prefer to have sense of an email’s purpose before opening it. Four to five words should be enough to convey this. Reread the text of your email if unsure as to what you’ve written.
Particularly annoying miscues: “Nothing in the subject line!” or “These two letters: ‘FW’!”
Also, while admitting to committing the same email sin, one dear friend said, “My biggest email pet peeve is when the subject line isn’t updated to match the evolving conversation in an email string.”
However, I must add that some people organize their email by subject, so this could cause some confusion. So, I propose, making a clear acknowledgement of switching the subject line (or closing out the string) and starting anew with appropriate subject line to evolved conversation.
Wait, what were we talking about?
3) Grammatical errors
Seems like an obvious one, but even those in positions of power have been known to make some of these dreaded mistakes.
Sure, it happens to even the best of us (*wink*), but this is a surefire way to undercut your message.
Their. I said it.
I know what your thinking.
Irregardless. It’s time to slow down and pay attenshun.
*Please don’t quote me based on the last four lines.*
There are now services that make it pretty easy to avoid these kinds of mistakes. Take Grammarly, a digital writing tool, which corrects spelling, grammar and even tone! Although, this does still feel like cheating a bit to me!
4) What’s your point?
“Maybe it goes without saying, but it bugs me when the purpose of the email is unclear,” said a straightforward friend. “What needs to be done?” Why am I receiving this email?”
Another colleague finds herself annoyed by “emails in which I am uncertain of the ask. Do you want an answer, advice, or is this just for my information?!?”
Same goes for my favorite millennial who added, “If there are a lot of people in the ‘To’ list, I want to know who is on point to respond and by when.”
Make the point clear she says. If there is an ask, make sure the right person knows they are accountable and the expectations.
5) The Wall of Text
A handful of folks in my small, very non-scientific survey replied about too much text.
“Ugh. Long wordy emails. I like straight and to the point!”
If you’ve got an intimidating wall of text, you risk your recipients not reading any of it or misreading it because they’re skimming, and, frankly, wondering about you.
If you know you’ve got a lot of content, break it up with bullets (and bulleted content means to the point)! And create visual space with appropriate paragraph breaks.
6) Emailing after hours
An extremely hardworking colleague said, “My #1 email pet peeve is when supervisors or other authority figures email (or text) you at off hours, or when you are on vacation, and expect you to be checking and responding to email.”
Advice to supervisors here: Set guidelines with your team or colleagues (e.g., "If I email you at off hours, I do not need a response right away.” OR put something in your email subject line to let people know you're not requiring a response until the next business day (e.g., “NO NEED TO OPEN TONIGHT”).
7) What? No ‘Hello’?
“I feel a little off-put when someone just blasts off an email and can’t type a greeting.”
Know your audience. Some folks … even the most easy going … like to receive a little “Hi Tom,” or “Greetings and happy Tuesday, everybody.”
8) Where’s the info?
This one irks me a bit too. I cannot tell a lie.
The same, easy going friend who bristled at the lack of email greeting above wanted to add:
“How about when someone asks for you to call them in their email, but doesn't type their phone number or have an email signature that includes it.”
9) Does this warrant some face time instead?
“I think my #1 email pet peeve is when people send an email rather than getting up from their desk for a simple, face-to-face conversation,” said one colleague who actually thinks speaking to someone can be helpful.
Another colleague said, “It can save time. Have a more in-depth question? Don’t expect me type my response in an email. Call me so we can talk it through. Or use email to ask for a time to talk about this tougher subject.”
Personally, I don’t think email is a good place to hide … if you know what I mean. Some people use it as a virtual barrier from behind which to lob “I can’t” or other unfortunate easy-way-out grenades.
10) One communique suffices for some.
“Is it really necessary for you to leave me a voicemail telling me that you sent me an email? And then including in your email that you left me a voicemail? No. No it’s not.”
Well that was fun! We’ll get to tone in our next edition. Stay tuned …