09/05/2012

By Bruce Johnstone, Director Of The Business Growth & Development Programme At Cranfield School Of Management

E-mail was born 30 years ago when the SMTP protocol was published, and it quickly became the dominate medium of business communication.

Now only the more mature of us can remember how offices used to work without e-mail - the office memos, telex machines, telegrams, and typing pools of stenographers.

E-mail changed all that. We now have a powerful instant means of communication at our fingertips. However the demise of the typing pool means there is nobody to protect us from committing these common e-mail blunders.

E-mailing while angry

If you find yourself writing an angry e-mail, resist the urge to send it immediately. A good tip is to leave it in your drafts folder overnight and take a look at it again in the morning. By then you will have calmed down and may realise the language is a bit strong. Remember, you can express concern by politely asking for an explanation, express disapproval by saying you are ‘surprised’ and use the word ‘disappointed’ for strong disapproval.

Premature sending

It is a good idea to write the body of your e-mail first and only add recipients in the TO, CC and BCC fields when your message is ready to send. This avoids the danger of accidently sending a half-written message.

Forgetting CC etiquette

Get into the habit of checking who the recipients are going to be when you hit Reply to All. Make sure you are not clogging your colleagues’ in-boxes with e-mails they don’t need to read. Also make sure you DO always CC them if they are mentioned in the message, or if they must act on the information, or otherwise need to know about it.

Forgetting to be polite

A little politeness goes a long way. Start an e-mail with a friendly line such as I hope you are well, and don’t forget to use please and thank you. If you leave off the niceties, it is easy for e-mails to seem a little abrupt, terse and cold.

Bad spelling and grammar

Use your spell check. And avoid common grammar errors such as writing your when you mean you’re. Don’t forget that using all capital letter is the equivalent of SCREAMING.

Sending anything inappropriate

Never use your work e-mail to pass on chain letters, jokes, humorous pictures or anything not related to work — even if it seems quite innocuous to you. Your idea of humour could be someone else’s idea of sexism, racism, ageism or some other form of discrimination. It should go without saying that sending anything offensive at work can be extremely career-limiting.

Sending anything confidential

It is also dangerous to e-mail anything confidential or that you wouldn’t want to see stored on various mail servers, and backed up as a permanent record from where it may be retrieved - perhaps to be read out in a court of law.

Forgetting to identify yourself professionally

When someone receives an e-mail from you, make sure the name that they see as the sender is your professional identity, and not the funny name you created for your hotmail account. Also make sure you have a professional looking signature with all your contact co-ordinates and a link to your business website.

There are bound to be many other ingenious ways to blunder by e-mail, but avoiding these common ones would be a good start.

Dr Bruce Johnstone is a director of the Business Growth and Development Programme at Cranfield School of Management. He can be reached on bruce.johnstone@cranfield.ac.uk