I just recently spent about an hour talking one of my colleagues off the ledge after his market manager sent him a scathing email and cc’d at least ten other suits on the message. Even I was cc’d on the email and I’m just consulting the station. It’s a good thing that I was though, because I knew exactly what that person was going through. I immediately picked up the phone, called him, and stopped him from immediately replying with a nasty response.

We’ve all experienced that kind of email, the ones that give you a visual in your head of the person who sent it literally pushing the big red send button which causes the grenade to explode when it hits everyone’s email box. This passive aggressive move is usually sent by someone who doesn’t think before they fire off emails, likes to put people on blast, or is afraid or too lazy to pick up the phone and have an adult conversation with the person about the existing problem. I remember reading a blog or two about business etiquette by Consultant Buzz Knight. Which lead to his blog about Talent and Etiquette. They were good blogs. I could relate and it led me to think about the bigger challenge: Email Etiquette.

I can’t tell you them number of times I have been put “on blast” lately on an email. And don’t forget about the “reply all” emails, which most likely include a lot of people who don’t need to be on the e-mail or constant reply all’s while two people go back and forth arguing over something that a civilized conversation could solve with a lot less anger and pain.

I remember a time in my life when I dreaded looking at emails from my boss in the morning for fear that it would ruin my entire day. I had to turn my email off every night at 8pm because if I woke up in the middle of the night and checked emails, I would never be able to go back to sleep and I would toss and turn making myself crazy over trying to think of the perfect response. It’s half the reason I ended up in therapy from that job. I also remember being on vacation in HAWAII for the first time in my life, and having the entire trip ruined because my jerk of a boss blew me up on an email with a bunch of suits right in the middle of my trip. It was the first time in my career I could take and afford a decent vacation. It was NOT an emergency, and it could have waited.

I don’t think people understand the challenge with email verses actual verbal communication. First, there is no inflection in email. So, you can’t determine or detect the correct tone of delivery. You may be the type that believes less is more which can come off as offensive or curt. You may be the overfriendly type which can cause tune out or come off as patronizing or condescending. Or you may just be that jerk that has zero email etiquette and likes to cross the line for dramatic affect.

Regardless, we need to keep in mind that if we are going to communicate via email, the person on the other end of it is someone you need help from to accomplish whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. So starting off on the wrong foot is going to throw things off course right away and most likely do one of several things: waste an enormous amount of time trying to de-escalate the tone of the conversation (whether through email or not) than focusing on the challenge or problem itself; cause the other person to shut down out of anger and frustration and waste more time; or cause the intended recipient to go on the defensive and respond with a nice big EFF you (politically correct or not). Either way, there’s no solution, a lot of frustration, and much time wasted.

Most professionals have developed critical thinking skills, but they are often very different from their colleagues, especially if there is a generational, cultural or gender difference, and that’s okay. But we forget that sometimes people do not handle things exactly the way we would or respond the way we would. So, if a problem arises and you need to use email to address it. Do some critical thinking of your own and try first to understand the other persons perspective. If you can’t, then politely ask that person about their thought process before you put that person “on blast” in an email full of suits or unnecessary colleagues. It can literally cause a train wreck in communication among the team. If a reprimand is necessary, that can be handled after the fact, and with only those who “need to know only” on the email.

So, I’ll offer three things about Email Etiquette to help make your life easier and a lot less dramatic:

      • First, if you are angry or have a problem or challenge and you need to send an email, write it, then wait before you send it. Come back to it later and make sure the only people cc’d on the email are people who need to be on the email. Make sure you are professional, polite, and inclusive. Edit it until there is no emotion in the email. Then send it.
      • Second, if you are the recipient of such an email, when it hits your inbox and you read it, step away from the email. Wait, come back to it later, after you have control of your emotions, and then respond with truth, facts, professionalism, and the intent that the email trail can end here. But keep in mind that most people who send email grenades MUST have the last word. So, if it continues, politely request a verbal conversation so you don’t waste anymore of each other’s time.
      • And Finally, I offer you this: 51 Email Etiquette Rules Everyone Should Follow (2022) (emailanalytics.com)

    You’re Welcome!