Email Etiquette Tips for Better Business Communication

Chances are that despite your love-hate relationship with your email inbox, there’s no way that you can get through the workday without it.

Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus Systems, admits that as head of his private cloud computing company, avoiding email is not an option. “There’s no way I could conduct my business without email,” he told Small Business Computing during a recent phone interview.

Mickos leads a far-flung team of employees across 15 different countries. It’s the very definition of a distributed workforce, and the sheer volume of email produced by running a technology company is staggering. “I process 40,000 emails per year,” he said.

In his job, he treats email as more than just a communications medium. It’s representative of a thoughtful and nuanced management style. Here are his tips on ways to use email effectively, efficiently and to get the best results from your coworkers.

3 Email Etiquette Tips

1. Start with a compelling subject line

Think for moment about spotting a familiar face in the distance and that person is heading in your direction.

The experience “creates a visceral reaction” in the observer, said Mickos. “Your whole body reacts according to how you feel about that person.” Fear, love, repulsion…inevitably, emotions get stirred up, which can decide the course of inevitable encounter.

“I believe subject headers have the same effect,” added Mickos.

To prevent turning off a colleague with a wrongly worded subject line, “think about the recipient,” he suggested. Also consider the reaction you want to elicit, and tailor your subject line accordingly. Do you require immediate action? Make it apparent in the subject line and don’t bury the call to action several sentences into the body of the email.

2. Keep the recipient count low

When you need something to get done, email just one person if possible.

“You can hide in a group,” said Mickos. But if your name is the only one to appear the To: field, there’s no one to hand the request off to. “Your inner honor system prevents you from doing it,” he noted.

If your request requires a group effort, take the time to send each recipient a separate email, with slight modifications to personalize the message. It only takes a couple of seconds, said Mickos, and “each [recipient] will take it as more of a personal commitment.” But don’t abuse the practice; people will catch on if you make it a habit.

3. Stick to the one topic per email rule

This tip was inspired by Mickos’ own approach to managing his inbox and the order in which he deals with emails. “I first respond to the quick and easy ones,” he said. “An email with three or more topics, I do it last.”

Since many people treat inboxes like to-do lists, he has discovered that keeping emails brief and focused on just one topic makes them more productive. Lengthy emails with multiple requests or objectives take longer to handle, are tougher to archive properly and can prove difficult to forward.

Essentially, “the recipient has to do more work.” Show kindness before you hit send by being “brutally simple” in your emails. As a bonus, your colleagues get to experience the “satisfaction of accomplishment all the time,” said Mickos.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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