Do you remember when email first started to become a popular way of communicating? There were many people who used to write in CAPS only. And other people who would get upset about it and compared it to speaking too loudly or thought it was like screaming?

I think we have evolved since then; I don’t notice CAPS that much anymore, but luckily, at least in business communication, certain acceptable practices have been established.

Email communication, similar to any form of communication, is a reflection on the person who sends it and it will very likely be judged by the one who receives it.

For those of you who still write formal letters, I am sure you include a date, name and address of the person you send it to, maybe a reference to the topic and you will likely start it with “dear Mr or Ms” or “Dear John or Mary”. And of course you will finish it with “sincerely yours” and include your name and title and sign it.

So, think about why that was, and why it is still the norm for letter writing? It is a reflection on the person or company who sends it, it shows the professionalism of the sender and it shows respect to the person receiving it.

Why don’t we apply the same professionalism to our email communication?

Certainly there are some differences. The “to” and “from” fields will immediately establish who the email comes from and who it is meant for. The “subject” field often references the topic. Most business people have set up their signature, with or without logos, slogans or disclaimers.

But how about the content of the email? How should you address the person you are writing to? Should you finish it with “best wishes” or “regards”? How about spelling and grammar? Not all email programs have spell check!

Does it bother you when you receive a poorly written email with typos or without a topic in the subject field? Do you judge the person who sends an incomprehensible email or it comes from [email protected] and it is not signed? Of course you do!

All of us, as small business owners, have to continually show and prove our professionalism and establish trust with our clients or customers. And I am certain that most of you will think about what you are going to be wearing when you go to a business meeting.

So apply the same care to your email communication. It’s not going to make or break a deal, but it will further the level of trust and professionalism you are trying to establish.

I have recently been wading through hundreds of applications for jobs we had posted. The moment I found a typo or a proper cover letter was missing, I discarded the application. Just last week I blasted a headhunter for receiving from one of his underlings an atrocious email full of typos and poor grammar. My judgement was, that if that was the care they took with their communication, how could I trust the quality of the candidates they presented?

Here are a couple of additional etiquette suggestions:

  • If the email you receive was copied to others, use “reply all” in your answer. However, be careful if you don’t want the others to read your response.
  • Use the “Urgent” symbol (Exclamation Point symbol), only when it is really urgent or important
  • If you send an email to lots of recipients, it might not be appropriate to show all the names and email addresses of those who were included in the email. So use bcc!
  • If you change the topic of an email string, change the subject field or send a new and separate email
  • I respond to nearly every email I get, even with just an “OK” or “thanks”. It often is important to the sender to know, that you have received and read his or her email.
  • And in business communication avoid including silly stuff, like silly pictures or worse, “emojis”, or links to jokes or political or sexual comments or photos.

So now, if I could only understand what Twitter and tweets are all about! Do we really need to express our opinion about everything and everybody all the time? We have an expression in Dutch, which easily translates in to English:

“Spreken is zilver, zwijgen is goud” which means “to speak is silver, to be silent is golden”

Thank you!