Woman writing an email on her laptop

4 Tips to Solve Common Email and Work Etiquette Mistakes

Email etiquette is tricky.

The old-timey style of etiquette from the era of paper letter writing has not made the transition to email. This is a good thing, as nobody wants to waste time on To Whom It May Concern formality.

But it seems the pendulum has swung too far towards the casual, and we are seeing an epidemic of email etiquette mistakes that younger employees are particularly prone to.

Put bluntly, many millennials have become too easy going and abrupt in their written communication, and are coming off as unprofessional — even when they don’t realize it.

I’ve noticed some common mistakes here that need clearing up and fixing.

“Okay” is rarely an acceptable response

If someone asks you something, the proper response is to answer the question directly and fully, within reason.

This means the word “ok” does not work for emails, and can often have a negative connotation. If someone asks you to complete something don’t just say ok. It seems rude. Use another expression: No problem, I’ll get it done by this time, etc.

Don’t be abrupt. You can be concise but polite

Responding with clarity and brevity in a polite manner is possible, and takes the same amount of effort as writing in a way that will come off as abrupt — ie, badly.

For example, with my clients I may send them a first draft of a new resume. I ask what they think about it and to please let me know what changes I can make: Too often I get only a one line response indicating what to change, almost as if I’ve made an error.

The right way to handle such a situation would be: provide a quick thanks for the draft, I like this and that, and can you please make the following changes?

Express appreciation when people provide guidance and assistance

This one is pretty basic but can be overlooked in the hustle and bustle of the workday.

For example, someone gives you a 15 min phone chat you requested on LinkedIn about their industry and career history. After, make sure to write them a short thank-you email expressing what you learned and some gratitude. Don’t just end things by leaving them without a proper follow-up thank you email.

This principle works well generally when someone helps you out.

For instance, when you get a raise, call or write your boss and say thanks. Even if it’s not as much as you’d like, still sincerely express your appreciation. Imagine how you’d feel with no raise at all!

Conversely, don’t ask too many personal questions

Sometimes millennials get a little too friendly or personal in their communication too early on in a job, and ask coworkers questions that make the other person feel uncomfortable.

Remember, your coworkers or supervisors are not your friends (at least initially!). That doesn’t mean don’t be friendly, but rather make sure to set and respect a boundary that has a baseline of formality.

For example, don’t ask people about how their relationships or family life are going, unless they bring up the topic — “How was your date last night” is not a question to ask unless the other person raises it first.

This also extends to giving people advice. This is a tricky territory, as you do not want to be overstepping your bounds and acting in a way the other person may see as insulting (even if you didn’t mean it that way).

If you do want to write something more casual or personal, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask how they may interpret it before you hit send.

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