Your Emails Suck: Stop Doing These 5 Things Now

Sep 5, 2013
5 Min Read

About two years ago now (holy cow!), I wrote a post on why long emails are irritating.  In summary, long emails are annoying because they take too long to read, don’t respect the recipient’s time by getting right to the point, and tend to ask too many questions.

But there are other reasons most emails suck.  I receive about 100 emails a day, most of which are unsolicited, and here are my biggest pet peeves.  If you don’t want people to hit delete automatically every time they see your name in their inboxes, it’s time to stop doing these five things:

Failing to Customize

When someone has sent an email to me along with 50 (or 5000) other people, I know it.  It usually doesn’t address me by my name, and even if it does, it never mentions anything specific to me.  The content is generic and makes me feel decidedly unspecial.  Almost 100 percent of the time, that’s an invitation to delete it.

Copying Everyone and Their Grandmother

Most people know better than to send individual emails with a huge number of addresses in the “to” box, but there are still those who are cc happy.  Even if it’s part of your organizational culture to use the carbon copy function to cover your butt, do ask yourself whether everyone you’re including really needs to read this information.

Asking the Recipient Instead of Google

I love it when I come across a message that asks a unique question I’ve never heard (read) before, because most of the questions people ask me in email are exactly the same.  These are also the questions that the sender could easily answer by doing a simple Google search.  If I’ve already addressed this question in the public domain for you or someone else, I would really rather you not force me to cut and paste from the web.

"I Want, I Want, I Want"

I’ve discussed about the concept of win/win before.  If you want someone to respond to your email, please do not spend the whole time talking about what you want and need from me.  Instead, educate me or tell me something intriguing that benefits me or my work.  And only after we have developed a relationship can you ask me for a favor that takes more than a few minutes.

Putting in Any Kind of Emotion Whatsoever

It’s dangerous to express feelings in email because tone can so easily be misinterpreted.  My general rule is that if you need an emoticon to ensure that the recipient understands your message, you should be having an in-person conversation.  Outright displeasure and passive-aggressive sarcasm are the biggest email no nos.  As soon as I get a message that reeks of one of these, I immediately pick up the phone or walk to an office – all the while cursing the person for using email as a confrontation cop-out.

Why do the emails you’ve received today suck?  What can people do to encourage others to read and respond to their messages?

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