6 Ways That You Annoy Colleagues & Clients Via E-mail

And you thought loud talking, obnoxious cell phone ringtones, and uninvited office stop-ins were aggravating. These three annoying office habits are the tip of the peer pet-peeve iceberg among law firm professionals.

Professional isn’t simply a title. It’s a mindset. It involves a certain measure of self-restraint, courtesy, and attention to detail.

High-tech politeness doesn’t begin and end with mobile phone calls and laptop note-taking etiquette. Effective communication and professional courtesy involve a great deal of electronic communication device management, such as e-mail.

In fact, in today’s globalized, decentralized, and digitalized world, more and more communication occurs via e-mail. And, e-mail is often the sole method of communication between colleagues at different office locations, between clients and lower-level associates, and among law firm managers and their superiors, like equity partners.

This is why it’s so important to send the right message, the first time around.

Sure, this is an old and tired story, but are you really sure that you’re making the best possible impression with your e-mails? Do people respond to them in the way you want them to? Do your colleagues seem to ignore your e-mails, or miss important information?

If you find yourself annoyed with e-mail responses (or lack thereof) from colleagues or clients, the fault may be your own. Find out if you’re the culprit who practices annoying e-mail habits below:

Body of the e-mail in the subject line? Yes, e-mails are supposed to shorten communication. That’s why it’s such a hassle to fill in the “to” field, subject field, and the body of an e-mail, right?

Wrong. Not only does e-mail aim to shorten communication channels, but it also aims to make communication more efficient. This is negated as soon as the body of an e-mail is put in the subject line. For example, “Meeting today cancelled and rescheduled for 4pm EST tomorrow. Meet in Conference Room C,” is not a subject, it’s a message.

The problem with putting entire messages in a subject line is: (1) the field is often truncated so that you must open and resize your browser window to view the entire subject line; (2) people tend not to read e-mails with long subject lines because they look like spam; (3) people open messages and if there is no actual message, this leads to confusion, time-lost, and inefficiency.

It is equally unacceptable to write “URGENT” in all-caps for trivial matters (even last-minute meeting changes hardly qualify as urgent). If you’re confused about urgency in the office place, read more here).

Also, refrain from making any subject-line all caps. People claim it’s equivalent to shouting. But, it’s also a guarantee that your peers will instantly resent whatever message lays inside (even if it’s to say “FREE COOKIES,” writing in all-caps is the quickest way to be deemed an e-mail dunce).

Too casual a salutation? When our parents and grandparents wrote letters for the post, there was etiquette assigned to each one: “Dear,” for relatives; “Dear Sir or Madam,” for professionals; or “To Whom It May Concern,” for all others.

Today, somehow, this etiquette has gotten lost in the mail. It’s certainly not present in regular e-mail correspondance.

“Hello” and “Hi” are too casual for professional correspondence. Even among colleagues, it’s best to practice more formal parlance. If you’re confused about the preferences of the people you’re addressing, it’s sufficient to write, “Dear all,” so that no male or female feels excluded.

Even “Good afternoon,” far exceeds an e-mail that simply jumps into its message. E-mail may not require postage and ink to write, but the impression of the communication can be equally permanent once sent.

Absent signature? Nothing screams first-year associate more than an absent or inconsistent signature on an e-mail. Check with your human resources department and create a standard signature with name, position, law firm, and contact information.

That way, your recipient always has a way to return your message, especially if they’re more of a phone-person. Please note, in pretty much every case, Comic Sans is not the font for professional e-mail signatures.

A busy corporate client will be annoyed when they must look up your extension or waste time being transferred at the switchboard because your two-line e-mail didn’t leave a number.

Problems with reply-all? There’s so much written on the hazards and pitfalls of associates who reply-all by accident.

Yet, it happens every day. If you must, change the layout of your e-mail software so it is no longer easy to hit the button “reply-all”. Or, make a habit of never replying to all. If you need to send a mass e-mail, it’s likely your law firm has list-servs that will serve your purpose just the same.

Don’t be an embarrassment or an annoyance to busy professionals by clogging their inboxes with unnecessary mail geared for somebody else.

No attachments where it’s written, “see attached”? These days, e-mail programs like Gmail will actually check the body of your message for keywords like, “see attached” and prompt you to include an attachment should you forget.

If your computer is without this fail-safe, get in the habit of attaching documents first, writing the body of the e-mail, and then inputting the “to” field. That way, before you actually input the recipients, you can double-check that the spelling, content, and attachments are all the way you want them—without fear of a quick-send trigger finger.

Having an inbox full of e-mail is already annoying. Having an inbox full of e-mail because a person couldn’t get his message right the first time irks your colleagues just a little bit extra.

Return-receipt pressure? The return-receipt featureshows the sender that his e-mail has been opened on the recipient’s computer. However, this doesn’t actually mean the e-mail has been read. And, it certainly should not become a proxy for a stop-watch that a person uses to measure timely responses.

Furthermore, return-receipts should be saved for those instances where both sides can agree it is critical to acknowledge the e-mail exchange—strict deadlines, for example. At the same time, a person can set their e-mail to decline the sending of a return-receipt.

So, in the end, return receipts are not a sure thing. And, it’s more likely you’ll annoy the recipient by making the statement: you’re watching them, their response delay, and generally tracking their time management at the office.

Misunderstandings in e-mail can lead to the mismanagement of important cases.

Don’t assume your associates understand proper e-mail etiquette. Sign up for The Center For Competitive Management’s webinar, “Writing Effective E-mails: Mastering Today’s Number One Tool For Business Communication,” on March 1, 2013, 11am to 12:15pm EST.

You will learn how to (1) Target your audience; (2) Get to the point; and (3) Develop and maintain a professional e-mail style.

Ironically, even this blog post—written in over 1,000 words—could have been succinctly communicated in 10: Proofread all e-mail in order to increase law firm productivity.

-WB

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