Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Some e-mail courtesy rules

The popularity of e-mail has officially exploded. If you’re like me, you receive no less than 50… sometimes upwards to a 100 (or more) e-mails a day. Go a few days without accessing your e-mail account and you could have a full day’s work in just reading and responding to e-mails. As I sit here… buried in unread mail, a couple of suggestions for improving e-mail efficiency and courtesy come to mind.

Reply to all: If someone sends an e-mail to a group of people, it is not the license for anyone who has anything to say about the e-mail to hit the “Reply to all” button. For example, the organizer of a fundraiser for little Billy’s soccer team wants to know if there is a parent who can sell candy bars at Thursday night’s game so they send out an e-mail asking if someone can help out. A parent who cannot help out has two choices. First, ignore the e-mail (more on that in a moment). Second, reply to the sender and tell them if you are, or are not, available to help out. Finally, hit the “Reply to all” and send an e-mail to 30 recipients informing them you are not able to help out. If you choose to hit the “Reply to all” button, you are assuming that anyone, other than the person who needs the help and sent the inquiry, cares to know you’re busy that night. Guess what? We don’t care!

E-mail etiquette rule: Stop hitting “Reply to all” unless the message is important for everyone on the sender’s list… and this would be a rare occurrence.

Ignoring an e-mail: We are all busy people. We all get lots of e-mail. If someone sends you an e-mail asking you a question or requesting some information or implying that a reply is expected. Reply! You would think this is a simple one – the proverbial low hanging fruit. It’s not.
On occasion I’ve had to send two, three, even four e-mails asking someone for information that would have taken them less time to provide than it took them to read four e-mails. Flat-out ignoring an e-mail is the equivalent of having a face-to-face conversation and ignoring the person who is talking to you. It’s not very polite. I had a boss once that I sent a request to. No reply. Sent it again. No reply. When I asked him about it in person he said "My not replying to your e-mail was my way of telling you NO." I should have told him I failed my mind-reading class.

E-mail etiquette rule: If someone sends you an email that should have a response, respond. If you’re busy, tell them you received their e-mail and you’ll send them a longer response when time allows. Then flag the e-mail for a follow-up.

Expectation of no reply: Sometimes you send an e-mail to someone and you are just sharing information. In other words, no only is there not an expectation of no reply, you prefer no reply. Getting an e-mail that simply says “Thanks for the information” is a waste of time for the recipient to read. If you send information to someone and you do not want a reply, put the acronym “NNTR” in the subject line. NNTR stands for “No Need to Reply” and is a polite way of telling the recipient you don’t expect to hear anything back from them. You may have to educate your e-mail recipients as to what that means.

E-mail etiquette rule: If you don’t want a reply, put NNTR on the subject line.

Short message format: If you are the kind of person who can be short and sweet with e-mail messages or replies, put your entire message on the subject line and follow it with “NNTO.” NNTO stands for “No Need To Open” and tells the recipient that everything you have to say is in the subject line. For example, “Thanks for the info NNTO.” This saves the recipient from having to actually open the e-mail to receive your message.

E-mail etiquette rule: If your message is going to be short, put the message on the subject line, followed by NNTO.

If you like these tips, NNTR. Just use them… and pass them on to others.
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