Email Etiquette: It’s a Minefield Of Unseen Hazards

Email etiquette is an issue as who knows what is the correct and proper way to write an email? The moment an email drops into your inbox you have entered a minefield and you need to tread carefully.

Don’t get me wrong. Email is a totally useful communication tool that we could not now do without. However it has started to take over. Years ago it replaced handwritten letters. I suppose millennials do not even remember writing letters on paper and popping them in a post box. Don’t you think this is a shame. I am therefore so happy to see that letters are returning, despite the considerable cost of postage (don’t get me started on that one!)

I recently received a letter from a girlfriend telling me that, whilst we lived thousands of miles apart, she really valued our friendship. The letter gave me such a a warm feeling. I will keep that letter in my special box and in moments of sadness I can take it out and re-read it. This same girlfriend emails and WhatsApp’s me however she, rightly, felt this was something that she wanted to put down on paper.

A letter does not always demand a reply, just an acknowledgement that you have received it.

However my newest concern is email etiquette. First off, what is the acceptable time delay for replying to an email? Are you allowed any thinking time? If you cannot reply immediately (and I mean within an hour) should you send an email saying you have read it and will reply soon? But what is soon? With the arrival of smartphones we have become constantly available and so we start to feel guilty if we do not reply the moment we have received an email.

What is so desperate that it demands an instant reply? Presumably if it was really that urgent you would phone? Having said that emails, texts and WhatsApp are now replacing phone calls. Sometimes I look at the trail of messages on WhatsApp and think why don’t I just pick up the phone and speak to my daughter or my friend. There is a positive side as smartphones have enabled my sons to communicate in some small way. They are not good at picking up the phone for a chat – what man is?

Back to the email. How do you begin an email? If it was a letter the salutation would be easy – Dear for business, and possibly Dearest or Darling for family and friends. Nowadays I receive emails that begin Hi and I have never met the person. If they begin Good Morning is that meant to imply that you should respond before the end of day?

How do you sign off? Again with letters that is so simple. Business letters were always signed off with ‘Yours sincerely’ or ‘Yours faithfully’. But for an email? ‘Kind regards’ or just ‘Regards’? ‘Best wishes’ or just ‘Best’? Recently I got a business email from someone I have never met and it started ‘Hey’ with no mention of my name. It ended with ‘Best Love’. Surely love is restricted to family and close friends? Or are we back in the 1960s with love being freely bandied around?

The next concern is the body of the email. Do you write it the way you speak? Some of the emails I receive from millennials are particularly tricky as they are full of acronyms. I have to ask them what they stand for. One email I recently received signed off with AMA, Very best. Apparently that means ‘ask me anything’ which was ironic as I had to ask the sender what AMA stands for!

And as for emojis… for example 😅= Grinning Face With Sweat. When on earth do you need to use that? And now emails have started to be peppered with emojis which can just as easily be misinterpreted.

Talking of misinterpretation, how easy is it to quickly reply to an email to find that your message has been misinterpreted. Maybe you wrote it in a jokey manner but the joke fell flat (no intonation) and the recipient was offended. OMG (we all know that one don’t we?) what a minefield. So maybe jokes need to be reserved for phone calls. Or should we add a laughing face to indicate it is a joke? 🤣

Please don’t tell me that the recent survey saying we are all so wedded to our mobiles that we sit on the loo replying to emails is correct? Is nothing sacred? Work emails arrive at all hours and even at weekends, so we are never free from work. I am thinking of composing an automatic reply that goes to all emails I receive between Friday 6pm and Monday 9am which will read:

I have now stopped work and am enjoying my life with my family and friends so I will not be reading your email until Monday 9a.m. (Even then I may be on a dog walk or doing a supermarket shop) so be patient.

In the meantime could someone write a book on email etiquette so that we all can follow the same rules. 🤗 (That’s a Hugging Face!!)

Read more of Poppy’s posts here