For better or for worse, email is increasingly the way many Americans communicate in this technological era.
About 62 percent of employed adults use email or the Internet at work, a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study found, and many also have mobile devices that help keep them connected even when they aren't at work.
All that connectivity allows users to speed communication instantly across thousands of miles. But failure to use the technology wisely can result in recipients being offended and the sender's judgment called into question.
More seriously, failure to heed some basic rules of email etiquette can result in workers being fired from their jobs. Just ask David Cox, the former auditor for Knox County, Tenn., who was fired last week after he sent an expletive- and insult-laden email to Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles.
One such email, supplied to the Knoxville News Sentinel by Broyles, included the following rant: "You are such a B....!! And your family are weirdos that go to a wierd (sic) church!"
Cox was fired following an internal review, which cited "impairment to objectivity" as the official reason for termination, the newspaper noted. In letting his anger get the best of him, Cox, 43, essentially surrendered a $42,600 a year job where he had worked for nearly three years.
Moreover, it was unnecessary. A rule of basic etiquette is to avoiding sending email when angry, according to Jacqueline Whitmore, the brains behind etiquetteexpert.com.
Though the message contained within Cox's fuming missive is plain, the emotions behind many emails isn't always clear. "Facial expression, vocal inflection or body language can't be conveyed in an email, so messages may be misconstrued as too harsh, too critical or too casual," notes Whitmore, author of "Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work."
Whitmore advises workers (or anyone using email, for that matter) to never send email when angry, and to take time out to cool down and re-read a message before sending it, to ensure that nothing has been written that may be regretted later.
Along with sending "mood mail," as Whitmore refers to anger-filled email, here are nine other email mistakes that can easily be avoided, compiled from the author's list of "15 Essential Email Etiquette Tips," published at her website:
- ALL-CAPPED email. Using all uppercase letters is considered CYBER SHOUTING (and you could be fired for it). As an alternative, use asterisks to emphasize key words. "Bob and I had a *wonderful* time at the company reception last night."
- Personal email. If you wish to send someone confidential or time-sensitive information, use the phone or meet in person. Emails can be duplicated, forwarded and printed, so don't send or say anything you wouldn't want repeated or posted in your company newsletter.
- Sloppy email. It pays to check before you click. Before you hit the "send" button, check for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors. Take an extra minute or two to proofread, or read your email aloud to be sure that it says what you want it to say.
- Joke email. A funny email may seem innocent but it may be insulting to someone else. Email messages that are hostile, harassing or carry discriminatory overtones are permanent and may be forwarded to others without your knowledge.
- Loooong email. Keep it short. If possible, put your full message in the subject line. For example, "Can we meet this afternoon to go over budgets?" then finish the sentence with (EOM), the acronym for "end of message." The recipient won't need to open the message to respond. Use acronyms only when your recipients know their meaning.
- Buddy-buddy email. It's better to be more formal than too casual when you want to make a good impression. Use a person's surname until they respond by signing their email with their first name. This generally indicates that they don't mind being addressed more casually.
- Congratulatory email. A congratulatory email doesn't have the same impact as a personal thank you note, no matter how many people you copy on the message. Besides, most people cherish typed or handwritten notes versus an email message.
- Over-shared email. There will be times when you need to deliver an email to a large group but don't want to launch a massive distribution list by emailing everyone together. If the recipients are unacquainted and you don't want to divulge all addresses to all of the recipients, use the "bcc" or blind carbon copy function. When bcc is used, the only other email address that appears in the recipient's mailbox is the sender's.
- Oops email. If you receive an email that was sent to a multitude of people, including yourself, reply only to those who require a response. Hit "reply all" only if it is crucial that every person on the distribution list see your response. In many instances, the sender is the only person who requires a response.
- Moody email. Never send an email when angry. Take time to cool down and re-read email before sending to be sure messages don't contain anything you will regret later.
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