In informal settings, e-mail often reflects casual communication: people may not be addressed by name, the message may end with no “salutation” (“Sincerely”, “Yours Truly”…) or even the name of the sender, e-mail messages are loaded with abbreviations, spelling and syntax are often knowingly overlooked, and tone may be extremely blunt or chummy.
(For example, “Wha’sup? Can u pls get it 4 me? Need it now. Gr8. No prob. See ya.”)
In a business context, the above (or anything remotely similar) is not appropriate. E-mail business communication largely follows the same rules as business letters, with only minimal allowance for informalities. Therefore:
• The name and title of the addressee must always be present. (“Good morning, Mr. Smith”, or “Dear Bernard”)
• Cute abbreviations may never be used.
• E-mail must be structured: Fully introduce and explain the issue (as need be, judging from the context) in an orderly and clear fashion, and conclude with summary/follow-up and your name and contact information.
• Always proofread and spell-check. Never send a message until you have read it through an extra time after typing it, and if you see any red or green lines (indicating typos or poor syntax), do not send until the message is corrected.
• Always double-check the name(s) of the addressee(s). It is easy with type-completion to accidentally have the wrong people on the “To” line. Never send a message without reviewing the “To” line carefully.
• Never use bcc (blind copy) unless the bcc recipient is a very discerning person who is loyal to you, knows that he is being blind-copied are will not respond to your message with “Reply All”. Some people are blind-copied on messages and do not take the time to see that their names do not appear on the “To” or (regular) “Cc” lines. They therefore may respond with “Reply All”, not realizing (or not caring!) that the messages’ other recipients were not supposed to know that the message was shared with the “bcc” parties. Immense damage can result, and unless a person is very discerning, loyal to you, careful and savvy with e-mail, don’t use “bcc” with him.
• E-mail is not in any way a substitute for verbal communication. E-mail is great for conveying information, but it cannot enable one to establish a true relationship or be fully effective. Direct verbal communication must be at the core of our relationship with RFRs and companies.
• Contemporary e-mail culture has not only allowed for great speed and much informality (in casual, not business messages), but it has also allowed for massive irresponsibility. Although one cannot reply to every e-mail message on the spot, there are those who ignore e-mail messages or reply so late that their replies are no longer of any use. Reasonable, the- sooner-the-better response time is critical if we want people to work with us.
• Very important issues should often not be left to e-mail. When someone must be contacted about an urgent matter, do not contact the person (only) through e-mail. Verbal communication is still the fastest method and assures that the listener gets your message. E-mail follow-up and confirmation is a plus and is highly recommended – especially when the matter is technical or has specifics that are easier to understand in written form. Nonetheless, e-mail cannot replace verbal communication – especially for anything urgent.
• Many things should never be communicated via e-mail. Very sensitive and confidential information which must absolutely remain private should never be sent via e-mail. It is incredibly easy for someone to accidentally (or maliciously) forward such information to those who should not see it, causing untold damage. If the information is very private, delicate or something about which you feel, “G-d forbid if so-and-so would ever see this”, then do not ever communicate it via e-mail.
• E-mail messages in one’s Inbox that have already been handled should be deleted (or archived). Their unnecessary presence clutters the Inbox and makes it hard to notice new, fresh messages that need to be dealt with. (Don’t worry – anything deleted can be instantly accessed in full from the “Deleted Items” box.)
• E-mail messages should conclude with your name and all relevant contact information (underneath it).
E-mail is one of the greatest blessings for business and personal communication. Maximizing its major benefits and avoiding its very serious risks and pitfalls is critical for appropriate, responsible and successful use.