A topic that has surfaced repeatedly in recent weeks is the conundrum when it comes to email etiquette. With offices opening back up and business bouncing back from the pandemic, there has been a multitude of questions revolving around emails. For most people, the thought of composing an email seems like a routine task, but there is also a great deal of confusion when it comes to conveying the correct and appropriate electronic message.
I’ve pulled together a handful of recent questions, along with my answers below.
Email Etiquette Q&A
Q: I have fallen into the habit of starting every message with, “Hello X, I hope this email finds you well.” However, it has suddenly become obvious I need a few more suitable openings, and I’m hoping for some new ideas. Any suggestions?
A: I understand your dilemma (I have it, as well) and agree that it’s wise to adjust your tone when your intuition is nudging you to do so. Although adding a warm opening sentence can make an email more personable, remember that your note overall can still communicate kindness and respect without your standard line.
Let me suggest some alternate ideas to consider. You can personalize each to fit the situation.
“Good morning Jonnie,
How is life in sunny Florida?”
It’s been a while, and I am touching base to reconnect after our extended hiatus.”
“Hello Mr. Greene,
My name is Seth Smith, and I’d like to introduce myself at the suggestion of our mutual friend, Jane Gregory.”
Q: I am spearheading a time-sensitive project and want to keep things on track while also understanding that our plates are full. What is a polite way to follow up on work requests without coming across as rigid?
A: Ideally, your team members feel psychologically safe in the collaboration. Agree on project timelines at the start, leaving room for minor delays that can happen despite our best efforts. If you believe someone may be falling behind or otherwise overwhelmed, reach out to check in and brainstorm solutions together to keep things moving forward. There are often others who can jump in, but it’s better not to leave it for the ninth hour.
Q: Life has gotten a little crazy with kids doing virtual schooling after yet another quarantine. What are your tips for tackling an overflowing inbox—specifically, how to approach being late in responding.
A: If you are unusually late in responding to an email, feel free to address the delay at the beginning of your message. For example, “Apologies for just getting back to you, Jane. I’m juggling zoom school and several projects. Hoping to come up for air very soon.” You’ll find that people are generally understanding, especially as of late. If you’d rather not share specifics around your situation, adjust your explanation to your personal comfort level.
Q: I’d like to refresh my email etiquette. What would work well beyond the usual “Sincerely” and “Best regards” sign-offs?
A: When the usual signatures aren’t resonating with you, there are several other go-to’s to try-on for size, such as “Respectfully yours,” “Appreciatively,” and “With gratitude.” For a more upbeat and less formal tone, I personally enjoy reading “Cheering you on” because it leaves me with a sense of excitement (I often receive this sign-off from my web designer).
Q: My supervisor recently mentioned she finds it challenging to deconstruct my emails, saying I can be a bit wordy. This has me wondering whether others may be having the same issue. What is a good rule of thumb for email length and formatting?
A: It can be easy to get long-winded in an email exchange, especially when you want to provide enough background information behind a decision or question. Succinct subject lines and breaking the text up with bullet points are your best friend. Studies have shown the ideal email length is 50 to 200 words, with around three sentences per paragraph. If you notice an email is wordy, re-read and edit yourself down where possible.
Q: What are your thoughts on using exclamation points and an occasional emoji in business emails? I find myself peppering them in to soften my delivery, but I don’t want to come across as juvenile.
A: I understand your intention, and you’re not alone by any means. Allow your working relationship and the nature of the email to guide your friendly tone. A smiley face is usually not a deal-breaker, but avoid emojis in emails with clients and your supervisor if you are not familiar with their personality. Some people won’t mind an occasional gesture, while others will be put off and find you to be unprofessional. On a side note, you can send me a happy face anytime you would like!
Q: I’m new to sales, and it has been suggested that I link to my social media accounts in my email signature as it will make me seem approachable. What are your thoughts on this strategy?
A: With seemingly anything you share online being public (or one screenshot away from a larger audience), it isn’t difficult for others to find your social media accounts, especially when you have mutual connections. As long as you are comfortable with a client or supervisor seeing your posts, you can always experiment with including links in your signature. However, if the thought gives you anxiety, you may benefit from some social media housekeeping.
Be sure to check out The Protocol School of Texas. You may also like Email Etiquette: Using Titles and Designations. Read Diane’s posts on Inc., subscribe to her articles on The Huffington Post, “like” The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook, and follow her on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter.