Email is one of those business tools that many of us take for granted and don’t think twice about. But not practicing basic email etiquette could be hurting your reputation, causing business partners and customers to perceive you in a negative light. You might be the company superstar, but failing to communicate properly via email could be holding you back.
To help you navigate the communication jungle, here are some do’s and don’ts of business email etiquette:
1. Do Pay Attention to Subject Lines
Write a clear, concise subject line that reflects the body of the email. Avoid subject lines with, “Hi,” “Touching Base” or “FYI,” and do not leave a subject line blank.
2. Do Use a Proper Salutation
Remember “Hi” and “Hey” communicate a lack of professionalism and maturity. Begin your email with phrases such as “Good Morning,” “Good Afternoon,” “Good Evening” or “Hello.” “Good Day” or “Greetings” are other phrases used frequently in the international arena.
3. Do Use an Introduction
In direct cultures like the U.S., the best practice is for the sender to introduce themselves by first and last name with some background information in the first few lines. For example, “Dear Ms. Mandell, My name is Sharon Schweitzer, founder of Access to Culture; I was referred to you by …” or “My name is Sharon Schweitzer and I am an International Business Expert writing to you about …” This is especially important when introducing yourself to new contacts who want to know how you received their contact information.
4. Do Know the Culture
When sending email to people from indirect cultures, it is proper protocol and a best practice to research country customs. For example, in Japan, it is polite, appropriate, and customary to inquire about the weather in the first sentence of a business email. On the contrary, it would be inappropriate to send an email introducing yourself to a potential Japanese contact. In indirect cultures, introductions are only made by mutually respected third parties due to custom; cold emails are ignored, deleted, blocked and/or marked as junk.
6. Don’t Include Humor or Sarcasm
Emails can easily be misinterpreted through text without context. Humor is culture-specific. Avoid both humor and sarcasm in emails, as the recipient may be from a different culture and may be confused, or worse, offended.
6. Do Double-Check Your Attachments
When you attach a file, paste it into the body of the email as well. This shows consideration to the recipient, by saving them time and risk in opening attachments. Is this more time consuming for you? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.
7. Don’t Hit “Reply All”
Avoid using “Reply-to-All” unless everyone needs to know. When someone sends an email to 10 people requesting volunteers for a community service project, reply to the admin, not to all 10 people. Why make ten others delete your email? Reply-to-All is a function for ongoing deliberations on a particular subject.
8. Do Reply Expediently
Replying within 24 hours is common courtesy. If you leave someone hanging for any longer, you are not only perceived as rude, it could cost you business in the long run. If you’ve unintentionally kept someone waiting longer than 24 hours or extenuating circumstances arose, politely explain the situation and express your apologies.
9. Don’t Use Emojis
Those little blinking icons are for text messages. They are inappropriate and unprofessional in a business email. Emoticons may divert email to a spam filter or junk mail box. They may also come across as immature and unprofessional.
10. Do Protect Privacy
Email is public. Even after an email is deleted, online services and software programs can access messages on the hard drive. Before you click “send,” consider what may happen if a business colleague, your competitor, the FTC, or any unintended recipient reads your email. Think of it this way: how would my email look if it were posted on Facebook?
11. Don’t Be Negative
Never email negative comments. Antagonistic words are referred to as “flames” in cyberspace. An email in all uppercase letters connotes yelling. Antagonistic messages cause awkwardness long after the email has been sent and read. If you must relay bad news via email, use objective words and state the facts. Face-to-face or phone communication is better for relaying bad news.
12. Do Proofread
Check and recheck for spelling and grammatical errors. These errors look unprofessional and reduce the likelihood that the email will be taken seriously. Email software comes with Spell Check. Use it.
13. Do Add a Conversation Closer
By letting the recipient know that a response isn’t needed, the email cycle doesn’t continue on in perpetuity. Close with “No reply necessary,” “Thank you again,” “See you at the board meeting Tuesday,” or “Please let me know if I may be of further assistance.” End your email with a closing such as “Best,” “Best Regards,” “Thank you,” or another appropriate phrase.
Sharon Schweitzer, an international business etiquette expert, author, and the founder of Access to Culture. She is the author of the bestselling and international award-winning book, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide.