Table Manners? Sure, but what about email manners?
While probably everybody has learned some table manners and knows how to behave and keep his or her company, the right behaviour for email communication is not as clear. Most of the times, we only notice when somebody does not behave the way we expect.
I decided to give a presentation on email etiquette because I truly believe that manners matter, not least because I keep noticing that impolite emails can truly affect people’s mood and therefore their performance as well.
I believe that email manners are just as important as table manners. However, the fly in the ointment is that my generation and older generations weren’t taught any email manners by their parents or school teachers as is the case with table manners or other etiquette.
Most of us probably learned how to write a business letter. But who actually learned how to write an email and what are the differences between email and business letter?
- Originally, the main difference between the media was their speed. Emails get send in the blink of an eye. It seems to me as if emails’ speed of transmission tempts us to write them and click ‘send’ just as speedily and in this case, quickly often equals carelessly.
- How often do we actually write a traditional business letter these days? How often do we actually write, format and spell-check a letter in Word? It seems to me that we often write an email when the style of a traditional business letter would be more appropriate. By now business letters and emails do not only differ in speed of transmission but also in style.
So, what are manners and what is Email Etiquette?
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.”
- Emily Post
Manners make the social world easier to navigate.* 1) Your politeness shows other people that you are aware of dealing with another human being rather than an object*2).
Chances are extremely high that the more polite you are, the more cooperative and friendlier your environment will be in return.
Email Etiquette is a set of aspects to consider when writing emails. It is a set of rules to keep you(r) company, if you like.
Some tips for good email behaviour
- During the brown bag luncheon session on Email Etiquette, we discussed, for example, when it’s best not to write an email at all. This is the case (among others) when your message is confidential or when you have to criticize somebody.
- We discussed what reaction time is considered to be appropriate. Most people consider a reaction time of more than 24hrs as rude (when the matter isn’t ‘burning’), some people consider more than 6 hours rude when it’s a rather urgent matter.
- Most people are very sensitive when it comes to salutations. In general, people enjoy a ‘dear’ and reading their full name – spelled correctly. It pays to pay attention to these details.
- Another touchy subject is capital letters. The majority of people think that capital letters in emails equal shouting in usual speech.
- To make sure that your emails will be read it is useful to use SMART (specific, meaningful, appetizing, relevant and thoughtful) subject lines. Not only is it useful but it is polite as well. You show that you are aware of people’s busy schedules and their lack of time to figure out what it is that you want from them.
- Be considerate and make it easy and pleasant for people to read your emails. Keep it short and simple, use paragraphs and tidy up after you seem to have finished an email, especially when you have used ‘copy & paste’.
Good email manners will be appreciated and are very likely to get you better results.
By Jennifer Moesenfechtel (moesenfechtel[at]ehs.unu.edu)
*1) & 2*) stem from the very good article
Adele Gregory: “The importance of good manners“
For more information, please turn to
Taylor, Shirley: E-mail etiquette; Marshall Cavendish Business; Singapore, 2009. (You can borrow this book from me)