I promise this won’t turn into a rant on rules and etiquette, or a list of buzzword concepts with no real-world application.
We’re just going to focus on two simple ideas and emerge on the other side of this article feeling empowered, refreshed, and not at all thinking, “Oh, have I been doing that? Yikes.”
You don’t have time to memorize standardized formatting or craft every email as if it were to be printed on linen letterhead and sent in a sealed wax envelope. And frankly, your recipients likely don’t care about that stuff, either. What you should make time for, though, are common sense, common courtesy practices.
Here, I wrote you a poem:
is not your friend;
Be sure to proof
before you send!
to a thread,
First read all of
what’s been said.
Eventually, I’m going to turn that into a charming cross-stitch project. But, for now, let’s explore why you should commit this rhyme to memory, just like your ABCs.
Autocorrect is not your friend.
You meant to write “there” and your phone changed it to “their” because you missed hitting a letter while typing. This is a mild example (I’m sure you’ve all seen “autocorrect fails” or some such with much more embarrassing outcomes) but substitutions like this happen often, and we rarely catch them when we’re in a hurry.
Linguists will argue that the purpose of language is communication, and that any supposed rule-breaking is fine as long as the meaning is not lost. While I agree with that idea, and will deliberately misspell words in a text to my friends to save time (e.g., “tho” for though), here at the day job, that approach to communication is unwise. Sending an email to your co-worker with text lingo and spelling errors may be OK, but if they forward your conversation to a client who needs to stay in the loop, now you’ve just lowered the professionalism of the whole thread.
In association management, we work with volunteers who are often insanely busy, and we get it. We understand you don’t always have time to go over every email with a red pen. But, as the stewards of your organization’s official communications, you DO expect that from us. Rest assured, the Word Nerd Patrol is ever on guard here in OMG’s marketing department.
Read the whole thread.
Sometimes, when volunteers get very, very excited, they volley emails back and forth to association staff with blinding speed, and then someone decides to add your name to the list, and the giant product of their frenzy lands in your inbox, red exclamation mark demanding that you answer NOW!
It’s tempting to just look at the most recent chunk, reply to that, and move on; they’re in a hurry, obviously, and they’re waiting to hear from you. Maybe you’re already late for a meeting and can’t read the whole chain right now. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this: Let them wait. It’s far, far better to craft a thorough reply than to be quick on the draw. Which would you rather have to do: explain that you were unable to reply right away, or admit that your reply was off-base because you didn’t bother to read what they sent you?
You may see a pattern in the back and forth that no one else has, or be able to distill the various ideas into a coherent way forward on the issue at hand. That insight may be why you were brought into the mix to begin with! But you can’t make those kinds of valuable contributions if you don’t take the time to read.
That’s it! Now let’s have a cup of tea.
Make a habit of slowing down during your work day, whether that’s a coffee break, a walk around the building, or just leaning back in your chair to shut your eyes for a while. The world will not come to an end if you don’t check your email for the next few minutes, and you’ll be more focused and better able to handle whatever comes your way.