Business email can be something of a minefield. Not only must the tone be just right, there’s also a whole load of politics at play (in a mirror of what goes on within the physical office).
Despite all this, some people still get it so very wrong – and create real problems in the process. As a recent management study from Cambridge University’s Judge Business School discovered, committing one of the big email sins can lead to anger, frustration, confusion and fear.
One of the main points addressed by the Cambridge business school was the so-called “CC effect”, where workers include bosses in their emails in a bid to curry favour with their superiors and appear more transparent. However, doing this was found to only alienate co-workers and feed into a culture of fear.
Instead, the school advised, simply keeping emails between the people involved in the subject matter will not only keep everyone happy, but will also ensure bosses aren’t laboured with additional work they don’t need and for which they didn’t ask. The only recipients of the email should be the people who really need to know and act on the content of the email, so therefore the boss isn’t required as a CC.
This is, of course, just one example of email bad practice. As most office workers can attest, there are plenty more.
One annoying habit which often causes confusion and delays to workflow is the email where several people are included in the ‘To:’ field. It prompts the question ‘Who is this email for?’. If there are actions required, many people ignore them believing that someone else on the To list will take care of it. Invariably, the actions themselves don’t get done, or two people try to do them at the same time and often in different ways, impacting productivity and creates problems that were not there in the first place. To avoid this, it is important to be very clear on what is expected from each recipient, assign actions and make sure people who need to receive the email ‘for information only’ just appear in the CC section rather than on the To list.
Another potential email faux pas is the BCC – for all the reasons outlined above with the “CC effect”. However, the impact here could be greater still, as blind copying a boss into an email looks monumentally underhand if word gets out. After all, it only takes the boss to not realise they were BCC-ed in and send a reply, for everybody on that email chain to realise not only what has happened, but also who was responsible.
Perhaps the biggest sin of all is when a person expresses negative emotions such as anger, frustration or annoyance at a problem over email. In this situation, it is easy to hide behind a screen and type inappropriate words, that you wouldn’t dream of saying to a person’s face. Email removes the human interaction, so you can’t see the reaction or emotions your words evoke. This can cause irreversible damage to a working relationship and depending on the nature of the content, could lead to a formal disciplinary. The age old advice in this situation is to simply stop and think. Leave your desk. Do the next tea round. Take a few minutes to consider how your response might impact on your colleague. Ideally pick up the phone or if you can, go and see them face-to-face.
Email is, of course, a communication channel – no different to talking on the phone or face-to-face. So whilst companies train their staff members on how to conduct themselves around others, maybe the courtesy should be extended out to email missives as well.