Current Size: 100%

5 Mistakes People Make when Sending Emails at Work

In today's working environment, a significant part of your communication with your colleagues takes place over email.  While this can be convenient and allows for flexibility in our schedules and location of work, it does come at a cost.  Not everybody is able to communicate effectively over email and this type of communication can sometimes lead to misunderstandings.  It is possible that the way that you handle your email inbox is a source of frustration to your coworkers.  Sometimes you can make a huge improvement on how your colleagues perceive your email just by making a few small adjustments.  Here are a few common mistakes to avoid: 

Sending an email to the wrong person.  Our email programs have so many helpful features such as selecting favourite contacts or auto filling email addresses that allow for efficiency in our work.  However, it's important that you take a second to make sure that you are actually sending the email to the correct person.  Sending an email to the wrong person is awkward at best and it could actually get you into trouble if you are sending confidential information.  It is also important to use your discretion when you 'reply all' to emails.  Show respect for your coworkers' time by only sending them emails that they need.   

Not acknowledging or responding to email.   Have you ever sent someone an email only to be met with radio silence?  It's rude and it forces you to go through the hassle and awkwardness of asking the question for a second time.  We are all busy.  Even if you can't immediately answer your coworker's question, acknowledge their email and let them know when they can expect a response.  Just make sure that you do actually follow up with them.   

Sending an email when you should talk in person.  Email is not the best medium for every conversation.  If you are talking about a topic that is complicated or sensitive, it is probably better to have the conversation in person.  For example, if you are brainstorming ideas, or planning a complicated project, doing it over email may hinder the process as it does not allow for the spontaneous flow of ideas that can happen with a team in a meeting room.  If you are trying to address a sensitive conflict with a co-worker, you may find it easier to connect when you are standing in front of each other.  Defaulting to email when it's not appropriate can be frustrating for everyone involved.      

Not using subject lines effectively.  When used properly, subject lines can be a useful tool.  They can encourage your colleague to read the message and they can make your email easily searchable.  The problem is that most people don't take the time to customize them.  Often people will reply back to an old email without changing the subject line or they will put something generic like "Question".  Think of your subject line as another opportunity to communicate your key message. 

Not using greetings or basic manners.  When you are sitting in front of a computer, it can be easy to forget that you are communicating with real people.  Resist the temptation to just dive in to your question without common pleasantries like "Hello, how are you?"  You may feel like you are just saving time but there is a good chance that your coworkers perceive it as rude.  Also, always remember to say please and thank you; it goes a long way.

We all have so much on our plates and when we're busy, basic manners can be the first to go.  A good approach is to always prioritize the relationship over the task.  When you are talking to your co-worker, only move to the task when you have properly greeted them as a human being.  This is an effective approach for both online and in-person communication.  It seems so basic, but when we are stressed and overworked, we sometimes need these guidelines to keep us on track!

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image by