Business Email Etiquette

Ensure that you leave a positive impression when using email for business purposes


In this day and age, due to the fast pace of life and the haste to distribute the same 24 hours between more tasks than ever, doing business online has become the norm. This saves both time and effort and breaks the barrier of only reaching so many people in a short interval.

However, one must never forget that online written communication addresses real interlocutors, which means that if one's words are not clear enough or are inappropriate, on the receiving end there is room for interpretation. Tacky but still axiomatic, "it's not what you say but the way you say it" is as valid today as ever.

An Email, Once Sent, Can Never Be Unsent

First and foremost, and this can not be stressed enough, do not write business emails when you're under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or are in an emotionally unstable moment of your existence. A combination of either of them could result in a disaster.

A career could be set backwards or ended by a simple click, and bear in mind there is no way out, such as simply tearing a letter apart or stealing a tape from the answering machine. Because when one is intoxicated, they usually don't hold back.

Sometimes we work for or with people we don't exactly care for, but it's essential to our business association that we maintain cordiality; however, when our judgment is clouded we tend to feel invincible and seem to have an answer for everything, which might not be the case. When people are upset or angry, as well, they sometimes lash out at those who don't deserve it, so imagine the surprise. Telling everyone straightforwardly what you really think of them might seem like a good idea at the time, but most likely it's a decision you will regret. There are business relationships we struggle to maintain for years, in spite of deep antipathy, and a few years' hard work of putting up appearance could go down the drain by emailing a few too honest words.

Maintain A Professional Distance

Secondly, a certain distance must be maintained, since the person we're addressing is only a business acquaintance. One might think repeated mutual politeness equals familiarity, but it certainly doesn't. The method used in aggressive advertising, namely treating a potential customer like an old friend, denotes arrogance and taking the liberty to treat people according to assumptions. When used in an email, this presumed familiarity could be perceived as lack of respect, even when that wasn't the intention. In this category falls the bothersome habit of giving people nicknames by shortening their existing ones. Whilst it might be irritating even in an office, it will be even more so in written communication which should be kept within a serious register. Remember each person has a different sense of humour.

Watch Your Grammar and Your Spelling

It's quite important as well to watch your grammar and spelling and always bear in mind where the receiver is from, hence slang should be avoided, and especially the text message abbreviations many use nowadays. It's best to be clear and concise, and for further clarity, avoid over quoting, as it might result in confusion.

Treat Emails Confidentially

And finally, don't forget to treat emails confidentially. Nine times out of then, when someone sends you an email, it is in confidence that you will keep that information to yourself. The easiness of sharing information doesn't make it morally right, and when doing so you risk losing not only the trust of the people whose words you made public, but of everyone else as well, as they might think for you it's common practice.

In some cases, breach of confidence can go further than a simple loss of trust: depending on the terms of your employment, it may also be cause for dismissal.


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