Your e-mail is as much a part of your professional image as the clothes you wear, the “snail mail” letters you write (assuming you still do), the greeting on your voice mail, and the handshake you offer. If you want to build positive business relationships, pay attention to your e-mail and steer clear of these 10 common e-mail mistakes:
- Blank or Trivial Subject Line. Never send a message that reads "no subject.” Given the huge volume of e-mail that each person receives, the subject header is essential if you want your message read in a timely fashion. The subject line should give a snapshot of your message. "Hi" or "Hello" does not compel the reader to read your message promptly.
- Failure to Change the Header to Correspond with the Subject. Label each message for what it is, that is, "contact info," "graphics," or "home page." Don't just hit "reply." That way your reader can locate a specific document in her message folder quickly. If you change the subject altogether, start a new message.
- Not Personalizing Your Message to the Recipient. E-mail is informal but it still needs a greeting. Begin with "Dear Mr. Broome," "Dear Jim," "Hello Jim," or just "Jim." Failure to personalize your message makes your e-mail seem cold.
- Not Accounting for Tone. When you communicate with another person face to face, 93% of the message is non-verbal. The e-mail reader cannot see your face or hear your tone of voice, so choose your words carefully and thoughtfully. Put yourself in the other person's place and think how your words may come across in cyberspace.
- Forgetting to Proofread. In the early days of e-mail, someone created the notion that this form of communication did not have to be letter perfect. Wrong. It is a representation of you. Use proper capitalization and punctuation and always check your spelling. Remember that your spellchecker will catch misspelled words but not misused ones. A good practice is to enter the name and e-mail address of the person to whom you are writing after you have composed the e-mail. Check everything over carefully first. Proofread for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and clarity. Did you say what needed to be said? How was your "tone of voice"? If you were the least bit emotional when you wrote the e-mail, did you let it sit for a period of time before sending? Lastly, did you include any attachments you wanted to send?
- Writing the Great American Novel. Keep your message short. Use only a few paragraphs and a few sentences per paragraph. People skim their e-mail, so a long missive is wasted. If you find yourself writing an overly long message, pick up the phone or call a meeting.
- Forwarding E-mail without Permission. Most everyone is guilty of this one, but think about it. If the message was sent to you and only you, why would you take responsibility for passing it on? Too often confidential information has gone global because of someone's lack of judgment. Unless you first request permission, do not forward anything that was sent just to you.
- Thinking That No One Else Will Ever See Your E-mail. Once you hit the “send” button, you have no idea where your e-mail may end up. Don't use the Internet to send anything that you wouldn’t want to see on a billboard on your way to work the next day. Use other means to communicate personal or sensitive information.
- Omitting Your Signature. Always close with your name, even though it is included at the top of the e-mail, and add contact information such as your phone, fax, and mailing address. The recipient may want to call you or send you documents that cannot be e-mailed. Creating a formal signature block with all that data is the most professional approach.
- Expecting an Instant Response. Not everyone is sitting in front of the computer with their e-mail open. The beauty of Internet communication is its convenience. People can check their messages when it suits them, not you. If you require an immediate response, use the phone.
A well-crafted e-mail makes a powerful impression and can help you establish positive professional relationships. Use the technology effectively and appropriately and I guarantee you will reap the rewards of that effort.