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Beyond Punctuation: Business Communications and Email Etiquette
Jan 27, 2020 - Joe White, Director, AEU LEAD

Let’s face it, the efficiency and means of communication has never been easier or more convenient. In a moment’s notice, one can send an email, tweet about feelings, or Instagram an image to hundreds or even thousands of recipients at any point across the globe with a single keystroke. The ability to reach beyond communication restraints of the past enables us to share information in real time across great distances and past barriers previously viewed as insurmountable. “With great power comes great responsibility.” The quote made famous by Spiderman rings true here as well.

In this article, we’re going to discuss emails as a use of business communicate and the etiquette that should be employed. Less is often more when it comes to emails, and their contents cannot be easily withdrawn once launched into the digital domain. For these reasons and more, it’s a topic worth periodic review warranting personal reflection.


Use Email as a Last Resort
An important part of the communication process is lost when it doesn’t take place in person. Body language helps convey meaning and is a missing element when information is shared by email. In addition, collaboration is far less likely to occur, and meaningful dialogue needed for understanding is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Take every opportunity to communicate in person. If that’s not possible, pick up the phone. Use email (or text) as a last resort. A subtle but important point to remember, efficient communication seldom translates to effective communication. While emails and texts provide the former, they seldom deliver the latter.


Limit Your Distribution and Response
According to a recent survey published by McKinsey, employees spend on average 28% of their workday reading and responding to emails. That translates to two to three hours each day – for all employees, not just managers or executives. While you may not be able to avoid receiving them, you can certainly help reduce them for others. When drafting emails, limit distribution to only those relevant to the content and information. When responding, consider doing the same thing. We’ve all received an email sent to everyone within the company requesting feedback or information privy only to the author, as well as what seems to be every response for weeks to come. Don’t “reply all” unless it’s necessary or specifically requested.


Emojis, Not Emotions
When communicating by email, few things will come back to haunt you faster than those written in anger or frustration. Don’t do it. If you must, get out a pen and paper and express your thoughts and feelings so they are confined to the pad and pages in front of you. Talk to trusted friends and step away from whatever is triggering the emotions. Don’t use email as a weapon to convey your anger and frustration; it’s a choice you have exclusive control over. Few things provide clarity and perspective better than time and distance. Get a good night’s sleep before responding to sources of frustration.


Just the Facts
As a supervisor, you are in a unique position within your company. You have direct access to a great deal of information at the top of the organization and a first-hand understanding of what takes place on the shop floor. This can and often does translate to others asking for your view and perspective of what they may see as “the other side”. Proceed with caution. Comments made through email are discoverable in matters involving litigation and you don’t want to try and explain to a judge or jury what you really meant to say. When drafting an email, always assume your boss, your employees, and your family has access to it. Also, bear in mind that once launched, emails may never be retrieved or destroyed. Stick to the facts, avoid making inflammatory or speculative statements, and don’t share opinions you wouldn’t openly and publicly make.


Get to the Point Already
As previously noted, we all receive lots of emails. Many are essential, some are important, and others are nothing more than time drains. When you must communicate by email, make your point as efficiently and effectively as possible. Keep the content within the parameters of the subject heading and clarify or highlight what you specifically hope to achieve with the email. If there is a requested action associated with the communication, make it clear. Also, provide clarity on timing of response needed and a means of contact for questions or needed information. While details are important and often essential to desired outcomes, they become lost in lengthy emails. If an email extends beyond a brief read, schedule a meeting to communicate or share points to be made.

The opinions and comments expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the opinion of ALMA, The American Equity Underwriters, Inc., AEU LEAD or Amwins. None of the aforementioned parties or the authors are responsible for any inaccuracy of content or for any loss or damages incurred by any party as a result of reliance on information contained in this article. Content may not be published or reproduced without the written consent of the authors. Prior articles may not be updated for accuracy as pertinent information changes over time. The AEU LEAD blog is intended to provide general information and should not be construed as legal advice.
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