How to avoid your emails going viral

“Worst email ever?”  was the headline that got my attention when I read my newspaper on a Saturday morning. The story was about an Australian manager who had sent an email which he later described himself as a “Gordon Ramsay meets Donald Trump-style email rant”.  His email went viral on Twitter (#bossoftheyear) and the story was an online sensation for a couple of days. 

Although, or maybe because, we send and receive countless emails every day it is sometimes easy to forget some of the golden rules of email etiquette. To give the manager his dues he later apologized to his staff (“It seems I am becoming an online sensation for how NOT to communicate – and in hindsight I agree!!”), but his story is a timely reminder to review some important dos and don’ts for emailing. Starting with the most important one, here are six tips for you to consider…

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Tip 1 – Don’t send emails when you are angry / frustrated/ tired etc

This is, and always will be, the first rule of email communication. In “Writing emails that people read”, our most downloaded ebook with 18,000 downloads to date, we suggest you write the whole email if it will make you feel better and help you to get some-thing out of your system – BUT only add the recipients and send it after you have had space and time to reflect and think about what you are sending and its potential impact. Rule #2 builds on this by emphasizing that email is great for giving information, sharing updates or making simple requests. However, use the phone if something could be a sensitive or emotional topic. When it comes to management communication, in our Practical Toolbox for Managers training we also suggest that emotional communication is done face-to-face, via Webex or over the phone. Email just doesn’t help … although you might feel better for a few minutes.

As the Australian manger himself later said, he sent it “in a moment of seeing red and it most definitely should not have happened”.

Tip 2 – Watch your tone, mind your language

Emails need to be respectful and clear. Body language, facial expressions and tone of voice cannot be communicated by email. How an email sounds and the message it sends are determined only by the words that we use. Read this blog post if you want to learn more about tone in emails. Make sure that your message is respectful and clear. In his viral email the manager knew he’d misjudged this and later wrote “Obviously some of you know me pretty well and know I shoot from the hip, but obviously others don’t”.

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Tip 3 – Get the person’s name right

This is a very personal tip for me. I get a lot of emails from French contacts and probably 20% start with Hi Taylor (my first name is Ian). When you type the recipient’s name in the “To” line or select them from your address book – make sure it’s the right person. (In 2000, a British schoolgirl was on the receiving end of inappropriate business emails after a US naval commander accidentally added her to his confidential mailing list.) Be sure that the name you use at the beginning of the mail is the name of the person in the address line and that you have spelt it correctly.

Tip 4 – KISS: Keep it short and simple

Everybody is busy and everybody gets a lot of emails.  The average number of emails received per day in 2018 is 97!  If each email takes just 2 minutes to read and deal with this is 3 hours of your day done already!

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