Most of us recognize when it is appropriate to write emails in a formal or informal tone. At work, we are told to error on the side of being too professional when communicating with coworkers, our boss, and our clients. We’re given the impression that it’s better to be safe than sorry and to be careful not to come off as too casual or worse, disrespectful.
But once you’ve formed strong relationships with coworkers and clients, wouldn’t it feel weird to be strictly professional in your emails? Shouldn’t your communication style reflect the connection and trust you’ve built over time? So, how do you walk the line between being professional and personable in your emails?
Here are four email etiquette tips to get you started!
1. Know your workplace.
The climate of your workplace can tell you a lot about what is an acceptable tone in your emails. If you are getting the sense your coworkers and boss like to be personable in their emails, you should feel comfortable doing the same. Of course, you should stay true to who you are. Try not to come across as two different people in person and your emails. You want your emails to be authentic and reflect the person the recipient knows and trusts.
Take cues from those who are sending you emails - one of the safest bets is to match their tone. If they are casual in their communication, that’s the green light for you to be less formal as well. Of course, always show respect, and be mindful of the accidental “reply-all.” A good rule of thumb is always to be professional in your first email to someone. Also, if someone signs their email “Andrea,” don’t address your response email to “Mrs. Stitt,” address her as “Andrea.”
Side note: If you work in a highly professional industry like law, medicine, etc., it is likely better to stick with the professional tone. However, if you’re in a creative field or the trade industry, a more casual tone can be appropriate.
2. Know the difference between being personable and personal.
This is a big one. The two words appear and sound very similar, but have two very different meanings. Being personable means you are friendly, approachable and agreeable. Someone who is personable is easy to get along with and is not arrogant or easy to offend.
Be careful not to confuse this with being personal. To be personal means, you are providing details about your life and possibly asking for personal details in return. While it is a good thing to be approachable and empathetic, it’s important not to let emotions push you to be too personal.
Sure, you may become friends with someone at work, and sharing personal stories is fine, but be careful never to let personal information become part of negative arguments or an inappropriate topic of discussion. Understanding the differences between these two concepts will help keep you on the right track.
3. Always email with a purpose.
It can feel as though we receive countless emails a day. One way to keep yourself in check is to make certain that all emails you send have a purpose. Before pushing send, ask yourself why you’re sending an email. Are you requesting something specific? Is email the best platform for this communication?
Don’t be the person who sends an email without much thought. If you send pointless emails that don’t add to the conversation or provide any value, you will soon be known as the person who clogs up people’s inboxes! And let’s be honest, in today’s world, pointless emails are more annoying than someone using the wrong tone!
4. Don’t just proofread for grammar mistakes, proofread “between the lines.”
When you reread your email before you send it (which you most definitely should!), don’t just review it for grammar and spelling errors. Reread it as if you were the recipient receiving it for the first time.
How do the sentences sound? Could they have a double meaning? What types of emotion does your email provoke? Writing is more than following the grammar rules; it’s about communicating in an effective and compelling way. Make sure you aren’t sending mixed messages and that you are using the right tone. Don’t send anything that you wouldn’t want to be forwarded.
Email can feel like a necessary evil. But if we use it carefully and intentionally, it can be a useful tool for communicating with our coworkers and our clients. Remember to slow down before pushing send, and to think about the tone you're using. Keep your eyes open for clues on whether or not you should stick to professional lingo or if it’s okay to be a bit more personable.
And before getting email-happy, make sure that email is the best platform for communicating your message. Although phone calls and face to face communication tend to be overlooked in our fast-paced world, they should not be forgotten.