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Outlook Awareness: Avoiding common email etiquette violations

December 17, 2014

Is there a common thread that weaves together disparate office personalities? Yes—it’s that we all get frustrated by violations people commit in their daily Outlook (or other work email) use. I promise it does not have to be this way. By using a little “Outlook Awareness,” we can alleviate the annoyances associated with everyone’s favorite emailing and scheduling tool.

Here’s the thing: You can find a million articles about how to more effectively use Outlook’s features, but I can’t find one mention of improving your Outlook Awareness—those spots where we could all be more considerate and aware of coworkers’ email challenges and frustrations. And judging by some of the email violations I have seen occur in my 10 years using Outlook, a crash course on this topic may prove helpful.  First, let’s define the problem:

Common Email Violations

Replying to all

One time when I was flying out of Maine, a gate attendant asked if anyone would give up their seat in exchange for a monetary incentive. Craving one more day of outdoor excursion, I went to the gate attendant and informed him of my interest in cutting a deal. I did not pick up the microphone and announce it to the entire waiting area because that would have been annoying to my fellow flyers.

Similarly, replying to everyone on an email chain when you only need to speak to the sender can irritate even your calmest colleagues.

Discussing complex ideas through email

Navigating the complex nuances and processes of our respective industries (or life in general for that matter) through email can frustrate workers. Further, so much is lost based on the different ways people disseminate information through text. It’s kind of like politics. Do our leaders try to convince us to take a stance on complex issues by letting us read the bill or by telling us what they’re thinking? Think about it: Have you ever actually read a piece of legislation? An email about a complex subject can be as hard to understand as legislative text.  

Ugly email signatures and poor formatting

Some email signatures are really bad: They contain too much or too little information, or worse, inspirational quotes not everyone agrees with. Additionally, the general layout and formatting some people employ magnifies the problem. You lose credibility simply because you do not look professional. Think about it like this: You could have the most thought-provoking insights in the world. However, if you show up disheveled to a hot dinner date, there will not be any coffee served, regardless of what you have to say.

Meeting request responses

Next summer I am going to marry my fiancée. It will be a small wedding of approximately 100 close friends and family. Invitations are to be mailed out shortly. The recipients, however, will not be RSVPing back and forth, every which way, to anyone and everyone. But hopefully they won’t forget to tell us whether they’re planning to celebrate with us! Accepting meetings (and selecting options to let people know you’ll attend) is an important part of the work social contract.

Five Tips to Improve your Outlook Awareness

  1. Target your emails and send only to the needed recipients, and don’t automatically reply to all. Email inboxes are clogging at exponential rates going into 2015. Don’t add to the problem.
  2. If it takes two to three emails to get your point across, you should instead pick up the phone and discuss.
  3. Partner with your marketing department to ensure your email formatting and signature align with your company’s brand, appeal  to the eye and engage readers in a professional manner.
  4. Ensure that you are sending emails that are direct and concise. Be personal and professional while cutting out the fluff.
  5. Be cognizant of others’ time regarding emails and notifications. If someone gets 60 emails in a day and spends one minute reading and replying to each, that is an entire hour out of their work day dedicated to email alone. Just think of how much time everyone could save if we cut out unnecessary emails.

While it is impossible to eliminate all of the annoyances associated with Outlook, we can partner together to make our Outlook Awareness stronger. Be sure to read about common calendar violations and tips for cleaning up your Outlook calendar etiquette.

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