There are few modern-day dilemmas quite as
vexing as handling email etiquette. Although email has become the main
source of workplace dialogue, not everyone excels at it, and mastering the
finer details can be something of a complex task.
How does one show authority without
being abrasive? Is there anything that automatically disqualifies you from
getting that job interview or business pitch?
And, one of the most contentious: How do you strike a balance between being
friendly and professional?
To help you navigate your digital
reality, we’ve tapped some of the most successful people in the fashion and
business worlds for their expert advice, and identified seven essential factors
to consider before you hit "send." Behold, your definitive guide to
becoming an email pro — or at the very least, avoiding any major landmines.
Concise Subject Line
With social media notifications, daily deals, and newsletters permeating
inboxes non-stop, first impressions count more than ever. What does it take to
get someone to actually read your email, rather than disposing of it along with all
those Facebook notifications received overnight? KCD’s fashion PR maven,
Ed Filipowski (who receives around 300 emails per day), asserts that a subject
line should always be clear and specific. His advice on what not to do? “Absolutely do not leave it
empty,” he says. Similarly, media
entrepreneur Arianna Huffington advises to always strive for concise wording
when making an approach.
succinct and engaging subject line that's tailored to the recipient and your
objective (e.g. ‘Beauty Expert Seeking Role at M.A.C.’) is more likely to
increase your response rate. And, as
with all communication, ensure you double-check your spelling; even a minor
typo could have your inquiry directed straight to the trash.
The Right Salutation
should be tailored to your recipient. HL Group’s founding partner, Lynn Tesoro,
asserts that knowing your audience is crucial for determining the level of
formality required. "I tend to be less formal with a colleague or a
friend, but when it comes to a client or someone from the media, the
traditional ‘Dear [First Name]' is best," she says. While ‘Hi, [First Name]’
will suit some emails, ‘Good morning / afternoon, [First Name]’ is more appropriate
Barneys’ EVP of marketing and communications, Charlotte Blechman, attributes increased informality
in email salutations to social media. The way you greet someone on Messenger
shouldn’t necessarily flow into your work emails (unless the person you're
writing to is genuinely a friend). Her mantra? “I would recommend erring on the
side of formal to maintain an appropriate level of professionalism.”
Strike The Right Tone
The absence of vocal interaction and facial
expressions in email can easily cause your message to be misconstrued. Fashion designer Karen
Walker points out that email is a dangerous place for irony. “Don’t assume that
the tone that’s in your head as you write will come through on the screen,” she
particularly those regarding delegating, reinforcing a deadline, or dealing
with a delicate situation can leave you fraught with indecision. And, the
reality is, nobody wants to come across as a passive-aggressive sociopath.
strategy for crafting sensitive emails is to draft and save the copy and revisit
it with fresh eyes a bit later to check the tone. Having a second opinion can
also be invaluable for ensuring the message is delivered in a professional,
believes that “emails
should match your personality and the way you would have real conversations.” An
insightful perspective — after all, our tone is a reflection of who we are, and
can add to or detract from our reputations with the click of a mouse.
Sign-Off Really Says (& What To Strictly Avoid)
Striking a balance is key. Excessive use of XOs could place you on H.R.’s
radar, while ‘Take it easy’ could be perceived as dismissive. Likewise,
text-speak such as ‘Thx' or ‘L8Rs’ (if we’re really scraping the barrel) is an
should generally be limited in work emails to ensure a certain degree of
professionalism. Excessive punctuation, abbreviations, and emojis should be
reserved for your personal communications to avoid causing any potential offense
(yes, that winky face could lead to a whole new world of tension).
founding partner Vanessa Bismarck has some sound advice for maintaining politeness
in email sign-offs. Firstly, “basic manners apply.” Despite how busy you may be, including a
simple ‘Thanks,’ ‘Best,’ or ‘Kind regards’ is imperative. Secondly, “Customized
signatures that apologize for brevity can be quite helpful to avoid offending
readers.” This is particularly relevant
for people who are often working on the go (here’s looking at you, Fashion
Sometimes it’s important for multiple people to be copied across certain
information, but being a silent observer in a prolonged game of email ping-pong
can be downright irritating. Arianna Huffington asserts that, “CC’ing more
people does not make your email any more important — it only increases the chances you’ll have one of those
never-ending chains that is impossible to shut down.”
There's also the issue of privacy. Karen Walker is a not a fan of CC’ing en masse,
nor having her details shared with 50 other people (and rightly so). Another
concern for her is CC’ing people later in the conversation. “You have to scroll
down to ensure there’s nothing you wouldn’t want new recipients to read.” Adding newcomers into the chain could
undoubtedly cause all kinds of chaos.
load up the CC line, consider whether every recipient actually needs to be
involved in the conversation. Otherwise, provide a summary and action points
once details are confirmed.
When To Start A New Chain
Email chains are useful for referring to previous correspondence and allowing
recipients to familiarize themselves with the details. But, how long is too
long? In some instances, 30 to 40 exchanges
occur before a fresh thread is started. While
this approach may be convenient for some, the context of the discussion will
undoubtedly have evolved over time, and new perspectives and priorities will be
in place. A fresh chain can be useful to present a new direction and ensure
everyone is on the same page and not referencing old information.
consideration with email chains is composition. Forwarding on a drawn-out chain
and simply typing ‘FYI’ without a summary or explanation is not particularly
considerate as it takes time for the recipient to piece the puzzle together. Providing
a summary with key messages in a new thread is the best way to update
colleagues and partners on progress.
An Appropriate Response Time
Research shows that 34% of academics
and those in creative industries felt obliged to respond instantly, a further
28% were motivated by constant e-contact and 38% were relaxed and would happily
wait a week to respond. In the age of instant everything, what is
considered an acceptable response time? The
urgency depends on the nature of the email. If you can’t provide an informed response within an hour or so, show
courtesy to the sender and advise them that you will reply within a certain
points out that as most people now have iPads, iPhones, and Wi-Fi virtually
everywhere, “your office is in your hand at all times.” With that in mind, acknowledging receipt of
an email shortly after it’s sent is entirely achievable (provided you’re not in
meetings or at an event — which leads to another etiquette conversation).
The general consensus across all
experts interviewed for this article was to respond in a timely manner, with 24
hours being the maximum limit. Alternatively, a quick phone call rather than
email never hurts.