Three rules for writing professional emails

The devil lies in the details: that’s the foundational rule to writing emails.  A rule that doesn’t get the attention it needs in our flurry of back and forth correspondence. The result: the best of us slip up on etiquette or the guidelines that shape what is appropriate in our professional communications.

Is email etiquette necessary? Research shows that making communication errors impacts how people perceive us. In one study, participants who read an email with grammatical errors or curtness, thought the sender was less conscientious and trustworthy than those who read the same email without errors.

In a separate study, people who applied for a loan or funding were less likely to be funded and received less favorable terms when their loan requests had spelling mistakes, or were overly eager.

How do we prevent such snap judgements? Here are some thumb rules for writing your emails:

  1. Stay clear of emojis. You might want to add a smiley or a holiday emoji when writing to a coworker/ client you’ve been corresponding with. Avoid it. Unless the recipient of your email is the first one to do so. Research reveals using emojis in work emails makes you look less competent, and doesn’t have any bearing on whether you come across as being friendly.
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  2. Choose language that conveys your tone. The chances of your words being misunderstood are high. Studies show that people overestimate how often their recipients would correctly identify if their tone was sarcastic or serious. While they believed recipients would get it right 80% of the time, reality was closer to 56%. What can help here?
  • Avoid negative phrases like mistakes, issues, failure, unfortunate, etc. They may make you look more anxious or worried than you are.
  • Reduce the use of adjectives like extremely, highly, deeply, really. They denote an extra dose of emotion you may or may not feel.
  • Take cues from your recipient’s email. If they include some rapport building or personal lines/ questions, do the same. If they prefer short, straightforward responses, follow suit.
  1. Track a response thoughtfully. Our response time to emails has reduced to less than 24 hours. But, if reviving a mail trail after four or five days, instead of asking “Did you have a chance to see my email,” spend a little time crafting the follow-up. Is there an update on the topic you had mailed them about? Or maybe you came across something that reminded you of them? Share that. And then ask for a time to connect on the original topic. Makes it less transactional.

Since almost 70% of our professional communications are via email, consider them an opportunity to build relationships. How would you do that and what are your go-to email guidelines? Tell us.

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