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The 5 Email Mistakes that Drive Your Coworkers (and Clients) Crazy

More important than an 'inbox zero'...

Inbox zero. BCCs, CCs, and Reply Alls. "Apologies for my late response..." This is just some of the lingo us worker bees use to describe the (probably) most-used tool at work: email. Its essential role in workplace communication also means it's one of the most important tools to master to be able to make a good impression each time you hit “send.” Here are 5 of the biggest mistakes to avoid because, well, they’re annoying and definitely won't help you land that promotion or any good graces with clients:


When you start using email like an instant messaging service, we’re all in trouble. Email chains quickly triple in length, messages get lost, and you can be left waiting for a reply for a long time. When you’re communicating about something more informal with an internal employee, try sending conversational messages via instant messenger services like Slack, Gtalk, Jabber, etc. (or even walk over to their desk to say hey!). The benefits include instant replies and conversations, zero build-up in your inbox, and you can multitask a bit more. For example, if you’re on the phone with a client and they ask a question you don’t know, you can stay on the phone, message your colleague, and get back to the client without leaving the conversation.


We wrote about this pet peeve at length on Career Contessa, but allow me to continue the rant. The most obnoxious email “thing” you can do is send a very long and very detailed email with lots of “next steps” that require the person to respond ASAP at 5pm or at the end of the work day. This is the equivalent of waiting all day and then throwing a huge stack of papers on a person’s desk as they’re packing up to leave. I get that you want to cross that email off your to-do list before you leave for the day, but you might end up creating more work for yourself when the person starts sending short messages via their phone that winds up in multiple back-and-forths. Instead, use a tool like Boomerang to schedule it for first thing the next day. 


We’re all busy, so it’s very much appreciated when emails get straight to the point. Make sure to check your email for spelling and grammar mistakes too. You can also try implementing bullet points and assignments so nothing is lost in your message. I use a range of email templates, but here's how I generally style long emails:

Explaining why I’m emailing (2-3 sentences)
The Project Scope
Details recapping what you talked about, what you’re working on, etc. (3-4 bullet points)
What I’m Working On
Explain what you’ve completed so far, still need to work on, etc. (3-4 bullet points)
Next Steps
Explain what you need from the person, deadlines, etc. (3-4 bullet points)

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Email is designed so you can send messages and allow time to pass before you get an answer. The keyword there is “answer.” When people send an email, they do expect a response. However, there seems to be a trend that ghosting or just never responding to an email is acceptable vs. having to send a “no” response. It might be okay to ghost your online dating app, but it’s never okay to ghost work emails. It's rude and sends the message that the person isn’t important enough to respond to. This advice applies to managers, leaders, and more junior employees, too. 

To help with this, apply the 2-minute rule. If it takes any less than 2 minutes to reply, get to it right away. If it takes more than 2 minutes to write your reply, schedule a time to circle back to those emails, usually within 24 hours.

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If an email requires a long reply and it might be easier to connect via phone or in-person, do that. I can’t tell you how many times long email chains could have been avoided with a quick phone call. Remember, everyone’s time is valuable and it’s perfectly acceptable to respond back to an email with “Thanks for your note. I think we can work through this more efficiently with a quick phone call. Are you free today or tomorrow for a 20 minute call?” You’d be surprised at how much more productive you can be by picking up the phone every once in a while.

Ok, those are some of my email pet-peeves. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below!

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