Email protocol

June 25, 2008

Best selling business author and top blogger, Seth Godin, posted a great list of 36 items to consider before clicking send on an email. Email has become ingrained into our business and personal lives to the point that we barely think about how to manage it. Seth’s post points out a number of things to consider.

Here are the tips that either made me say, “Oh yeah, I hate that” or “Gee, I think I do that”.

# 3 – Are recipients blind copied?

Seth’s referring to group emails here. It amazes me when I get a group email and all the addresses of the other recipients are visible to me. That’s OK for the gals in my book club but not for an email where the recipients don’t necessarily know each other. You wouldn’t give someone’s telephone number and address to strangers would you? Use the blind copy (Bcc) address box for these emails.

#13 – Are you angry?

I have both been a recipient of angry emails and will admit, I’ve sent out a few in the past. I take Seth’s wait one hour advice a bit further. I now won’t draft a response for 24 hours or as long as it can reasonably wait. I’ll sometimes get someone else to read over my response before clicking send just to make sure I’m not saying something I might regret later. Email doesn’t go away. Once it’s out there, you can’t get it back.

#14 – Would it be better to make a phone call?

Ok, I struggle with this one. I love email. I prefer to get email over phone calls. Why? I’m an introvert and so I like to process information before I respond to it and I find interruptions jarring. I just assume everyone is the same so I email more than I phone. However, clearly a phone call is better in some cases. Complex ideas or information that will take a long time to type isn’t best for email. As well, if you’re worried about how someone will interpret your email, pick up the phone.

#15 – Blind copying the boss

Seth asks you to consider what will happen if the recipient finds out you’ve blind copied your email to the boss. Visibly copying the boss is not always advisable either. Are you doing it because the boss needs to be involved in decision-making or needs to know an outcome? Or, are you copying the boss as a message to the recipient that you don’t trust he/she will follow up or because you want the boss to know that the person you emailed has screwed up somehow. Either way, this is a nasty way to communicate. Be careful with this one.

# 28 – Forwarding a hoax?

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I hate forwarded emails telling me about some concern that is clearly an urban myth (e.g. Don’t let someone spray a perfume sample on you in a parking lot—it’s poison etc.). Seth recommends checking snopes.com before you forward something like this.

# 30 – Am I quoting back the original text in a helpful way?

Related–make sure you respond to all the questions asked. There are some folks out there who routinely answer the first or last question in the email only, making subsequent emails necessary.

Check out all 36 items and let me know the ones that you can relate to. Are there any you disagree with?

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2 Responses to “Email protocol”

  1. messagecom Says:

    Thanks for your comment/question Donna. I’m not a business etiquette expert so you might need a second opinion on this. If your email was fairly informal, the term “Ladies” in addressing four peer female staff doesn’t seem to me to be a major misstep. I can’t recall seeing the term “ladies and gentleman” in written form lately. You are more likely to hear that greeting in a speech or stage introduction. The greeting is a bit antiquated. In a formal, corporate email (say to department heads or even co-workers) I think I would prefer to use the names of the people I am addressing if the list isn’t too long. Otherwise, I think I would use the greeting, “Dear colleagues” or I may not even use a greeting at all because they are already listed in the “To” pane of the email. I think a closing signature line is more important (e.g., “Sincerely,” “Regards,” etc.). Some women may find the term “ladies” somewhat demeaning and unprofessional—one step up from “girls”. I suspect that might be what your boss is concerned about.

  2. Donna Robbins Says:

    I recently sent an email to four female peers and started it with “Ladies”. My boss called me on it and said it was gender specific and asked that I not use that term. Was I really out of line? When I have males included I use Ladies & Gentlemen:


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