E-mail etiquette: 9 faux pas to avoid in e-mails

Dozens of e-mails are written and received by every German every day. Many people unintentionally put their foot in one or other of the blunders. Email etiquette helps you look professional – and avoid embarrassing moments.

848.1 billion emails were sent in Germany in 2018 – not including spam emails. Working people receive about 21 e-mails per day. According to forecasts, the number is expected to increase by three percent every year. What is not recorded: how many of these e-mails have annoyed recipients, for example because they were worded in a misleading or impolite manner. It is clear that the number is likely to be high – after all, there are many pitfalls that e-mail writers can fall into.

The good thing is that it’s easy to write the perfect email and make a competent and friendly impression on the recipient with each new message. The e-mail etiquette guide explains which pitfalls you should avoid:

1. Spelling and grammatical errors

Particularly on the smartphone, e-mails are often written "quickly". The problem is that even more typing errors occur than already. If you start with a "Gruten Tag" in the salutation and end the mail with "Hezliche Grube", you will most likely annoy the recipient. Finally, you convey in this way that the addressee does not deserve conscientiousness.

Therefore, even if it is difficult in the hectic of everyday life: Take your time when formulating e-mails – and also time for a correction. This helps to avoid embarrassing typos and grammatical blunders. Double-check the name of the person you are writing to: mistakes can easily creep in. Always keep in mind that this is business correspondence, not a Whatsapp chat.

2. Abbreviations

"MfG", "LG", "FYI" (for your information), "z.K." (for your information) or "fyeo" (for your eyes only): Anything that supposedly saves time should be avoided. Because abbreviations make you look lazy and impolite. Finally, you convey that the addressee is not even worth the few seconds it takes to write out each word.

In addition: If recipients have to look up special abbreviations first, this also puts them in a bad mood.

3. Cryptic subject lines

The subject line is the showcase of every e-mail. It should arouse curiosity and convey what the message is about. A clearly formulated subject is a question of respect: After all, the recipient can then classify the mail more quickly and also file it – this makes his work easier and saves time.

4. Inappropriate tone

You want to tell employees and customers that you’re going on vacation for two weeks – and you add a palm tree icon with a smiley behind it? This may or may not go down well: Employees may become jealous, customers and business partners may find this type of communication too intimate. Conversely, a "Dear Sir" salutation in the fourth e-mail, for example, conveys a formal tone that can also seem inappropriate, even though it is objectively very polite.

For this reason, you should carefully consider your relationship to each recipient – and how you would want to be written to by this addressee. This makes it easier to find the right tone.

Most people have a particularly hard time with greetings at the end of an e-mail. Conventional variants are a safe bet here. Original versions often come across as unintentionally funny or overly eager.

5. Rambling

The advantage of e-mails is that they enable fast and uncomplicated communication. You should not destroy this character by formulating it in a verbose manner or by passing on information in an unattractive block of text that is actually completely superfluous.

Better: Write as succinctly and precisely as possible and clearly formulate when there is a call to action. Paragraphs, which increase the clarity, also give every mail a more professional look.

6. Forgetting the signature

Customers in particular don’t always want to receive a reply by e-mail – they often just want to ring through. But this only works if the contact details follow the text. Therefore, in every business mail you should check whether the signature is attached in full, including telephone number and address. What you should also pay attention to and what legal requirements there are, you can read in the article: "This belongs in a professional signature for business e-mails".

7. Do not encrypt sensitive mails

What many people tend to forget in the stress of everyday life: According to the GDPR, e-mails containing particularly sensitive data must be encrypted – for example, if they contain personal data or business secrets. This is not only a question of security, but also of politeness: If, for example, a message is about the recipient’s health, respect for the other person dictates that you make sure that no third party can read it.

The good thing is that popular email programs already have a feature that makes it easy to encrypt messages. You can find detailed instructions and further information, for example on the threat of fines for non-compliance with the requirements, in the article "Email encryption: How to send sensitive data in compliance with the GDPR."

8. Send collective e-mails

One of the biggest e-mail sins is to "CC" someone unnecessarily or to send e-mails to the entire distribution list right away. This may be more convenient for the sender, but often enough the content of the message is not of interest to everyone – and sending it to all is an act of rudeness. Therefore: Take the trouble to carefully consider who will really benefit from your message.

9. Feign urgency

Another bad habit: feigned urgency. A red exclamation mark next to the subject line can be a good way to let the recipient know the importance of their mail – and especially with a deadline approaching, it might not be a bad idea. But if you misuse prioritization to make sure that your mail is read, you will make yourself unpopular – because the recipient, rightly, feels hoodwinked.

The same applies to the use of "ASAP" (as soon as possible): if something is really urgent, it’s better to pick up the phone. Also bad if it becomes a rule: request a read receipt. This puts unnecessary pressure on the recipient, shows mistrust and makes the sender look like a control freak.

What to do when I get a rude email?

Impudent, incomprehensible, full of errors: It’s clear that you’re annoyed when such an e-mail lands in your mailbox. Still, don’t do as the sender did and write back rudely – even if your fingers are itchy. Rather point out to your counterpart with a wink that he has put his foot in his mouth.

However, if you feel seriously put on the spot by an e-mail, it’s better to pick up the phone or seek a personal conversation. This is usually a quicker and easier way to get rid of the problem than by sending out a sprawling volume of e-mails.

Entrepreneur Anabel Ternès has summarized what other advantages there are in increasingly engaging in analog exchanges again from time to time, and how this can succeed – in her blog post "Encouraging direct communication: how to curb the flood of e-mails.

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