Peak Communicators
July 2, 2014

Email Etiquette 101

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By now everyone knows to be careful what they share on social media.

Potential and current employers may be monitoring your online activity, or it may be brought to their attention by others who deem your posts inappropriate or offensive. Even corporate social profiles have a heightened sense of what they share after the US Airways NSFW image fiasco, and more recently the Delta Airlines giraffe debacle (get it together airline social media!)

When we share on social channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, we know our posts will be broadcast to either the public or to a list of followers we have approved. Emails, however, we often assume are private. Like a phone call, they are typically not intended to be viewed by the general public.

Evan Spiegel, the 23-year-old founder of the billion-dollar app SnapChat, learned that this isn’t always the case, when a number of blatantly sexist emails he sent out to his fraternity during his college days, were publicized on and nearly every major business and technology publication in the days following. I am not here to condemn Mr. Spiegel on his less-than-eloquent language, as it may be argued that he was, and is, a 20-something frat boy uneducated in the impact of language. What I am here to do is remind us that we too could fall victim to embarrassing email mishaps, and provide some simple steps on how to prevent them.

Double check who you’re sending to

A certain member of my family who shall remain nameless once told me how he responded in a not-so-favourable manner after finding out that one of his colleagues would be taking charge of a major project, not realizing that the same person had been cc’d on the email. This resulted in a 45-minute phone call of back pedaling and apologies.

Proofreading the body of an email is second nature for many, but it is also important to make sure you check who exactly you are sending a message to before hitting send.

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Know your audience

You may be quite chummy with clients, reporters or coworkers, but at the end of the day you are involved in a working capacity and a level of professionalism must be maintained when communicating over work email. Be aware that what you share and how you present yourself to these people could have an effect on your rapport with them.

Be wary of your formatting

Tying into the previous point, how you format an email to your mother or best friend should be different to how you format a business email. A proper greeting and signature, punctuation, and a clean font can say a lot about the quality of your work. It’s difficult to take someone seriously in Comic Sans.

Think before you hit send (or at least be prepared to stand by what you say)

At the end of the day, be it on social media or in an email, don’t send something you’d be embarrassed to have publically shared. I’m sure Mr. Snapchat figured his messages would never go beyond the inbox of those in his fraternity, but in a leadership role with his Stanford University chapter there was an expectation of him to have a  level of professionalism, and his subsequent success made him an easy target for dirty laundry airing.

Though most of us won’t go on to create wildly successful phone apps, everyone wants to have a good reputation in the working world. If you are going to say something risqué, be confident in backing that statement if it is ever brought to light.

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October 3, 2013

The Art of Following Up

I’ve got a short story for you. Two friends decide by text message to meet for coffee.

“What time works for you?” says Marla.

“How about Thursday at 10:00 a.m. at Starbucks?” says Jen.

And then the conversation stops.

Fast forward to Thursday at 10:15 and Marla is waiting, cooling latte-in-hand, for Jen to show up.

“Where are you?” Marla texts Jen (secretly blaming Jen for suggesting a time and then not showing up).

“I didn’t think we were getting together!” Jen texts back (secretly blaming Marla for dropping off the face of the earth).

It’s a textbook breakdown in communication, and in professional settings it can have disastrous consequences.

The funny thing is, the solution to this problem is the easiest and most effective communications method out there, yet many people don’t do it: Follow up.

Here are some amusing excuses people make so they can avoid following up:

  • “I already told so-and-so about our meeting/task/deadline.”
  • “They’re a grown-up and don’t need reminding.”
  • “I’m too busy.”
  • “We already have an understanding.”
  • “What I have to say doesn’t matter.”
  • “I have nothing to say right now.”
  • “This issue isn’t a big deal.”

Actually, it is a big deal. That one little message can save a lot of time and mental energy. Marla and Jen would have saved a lot of grief if one of them had simply followed up to confirm that 10:00 on Thursday was a go.

Unfortunately, following up does have a cost. You’re going to have to take the time to say or type a short message. Tough, I know.

But the results can be rewarding – even wonderful.


How to follow up as a communicator

  • A quick status update reassures colleagues, clients or journalists that you’re still working on their project, and gives them a better idea when they can expect the results
  • A “Did you have a chance to look at my pitch?” can get a journalist to retrieve your story pitch from the heap
  • A quick scheduling reminder helps clients and journalists remember to connect for interviews – saving everyone the time and hassle of rescheduling
  • Dropping a journalist who is already covering your story a line saying, “Did you need photos or anything else for this story?” helps a news outlet produce a great piece of coverage for your client, and shows journalists that you care about their needs
  • A thank-you boosts everyone’s spirits and reinforces positive relationships

How to follow up to build your team

Following up internally will boost your team’s morale and efficiency, and you don’t have to be the team lead to do it.

Motivation can drop in a team that doesn’t communicate simple things like, “Thanks for your message. I got it.” When a team loses touch over time, a subtle sense of non-caring infiltrates the project, and that can seriously dampen morale and motivation.

“But I have no news to tell my team! What’s the point of saying anything?” you might protest. You don’t have to have any news. A simple follow-up of, “I’m still with you,” will help your team members move forward with more confidence, because they know you’re still supporting them.

Obviously, giving kudos to your team members is a great follow-up too, as long as it’s sincere.

But it’s not just about making everyone feel warm and fuzzy. Following up with your project team helps you identify issues that might otherwise have been swept under the rug, only to pop up in the future as full-fledged problems.

So instead of trekking alone and scared in a barren wasteland of non-communication, take the time to regularly invest just a few words of follow-up with your friends, colleagues and clients. You’ll produce relationships that are more positive, teams that are more effective and goals that are more focused.

Some words you can say

If you’re inspired to do more following up, but don’t know where to start, here are a few phrases you can borrow:

  • “Just wanted to let you know that I’m still working on ____. I’ll be done ____.”
  • “How are you doing with that thing? Any way I can help?”
  • “Thanks for that thing you did. I appreciate it.”
  • “I’m following up to confirm that we’re meeting at that place tomorrow. Does that still work for you?”
  • “I got the ____ you sent. Thanks!”
  • “Thanks for letting me know. I’ll give this some thought and get back to you.”

Please feel free to follow up in the comments section below.

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