The Email Mistakes That Drive People Crazy (And How to Avoid Them)

March 9, 2017

These nine email mistakes will make you exceptionally unpopular with your colleagues.

The average professional receives more than 100 emails a day and rising. And American workers reportedly spend a crazy 6.3 hours checking and working on email each day, on average. 

Clearly, a lot of people spend more time than they’d like writing and reading emails. Hence, there’s no quicker way to annoy your colleagues than by making email mistakes that clutter up their inbox and/or require multiple follow ups.

So rather than ruin your hard work and good reputation with some easily avoidable email mistakes, we are here to help. Specifically, in her LinkedIn Learning course on writing emails, Judy Steiner-Williams detailed the most common email mistakes – and how to avoid them.

1. Needlessly replying all.

Okay, you’ve probably heard this one before. And yet time and time again people reply-all to huge email lists, causing people’s inboxes to be cluttered with messages that really only the sender needed to see.

The solution here is pretty simple – don’t reply-all unless absolutely necessary. And if it’s a company-wide email (or any email list more than 15 people), very rarely is it necessary to reply-all. Just reply to the sender.

2. Being sarcastic in an email.

A big part of being sarcastic in real life is the tone in which you say it, which helps convey that you are joking. And yet obviously there’s no tone in an email, so people – particularly people who don’t know you well – won’t necessary understand you are being sarcastic in your email.

So just don’t be sarcastic in emails, period, Williams-Steiner said. There is so little to gain from it – a laugh from the person – whereas there is a lot to lose – i.e. the person might feel disrespected or embarrassed and it could potentially damage your relationship.

3. Sending scathing emails.

Never has someone written a scathing email to a colleague or superior and was proud of it the next day. Sending something like that just leads to awkwardness and rarely ends with you getting your way.

Next time you write a “strongly worded” email, let it sit in your drafts overnight before sending, Steiner-Williams said. You’ll be happy you did. Generally, if you are that riled up about something, you are much better off talking to the person face-to-face.

At the very least, speaking face-to-face ensures there isn’t an electronic record of you being unprofessional.

4. Sending long blocks of text.

If your email looks like a page out of War and Peace, you are doing something wrong. Emails should be short, with bullets and bold lettering when appropriate so people can easily scan to get the information.

Pro tip – if you send the email to multiple people, call out specific action items to each person by utilizing @(their name). So, for example if you are emailing three people, writing “@Jim, can you send last year’s report” and “@Lacey, can you share performance metrics” makes it much more digestible for each person.

5. Not sending an acknowledgement email if you need some time to respond.

Often your boss or a colleague will ask you a question via email that might take a day or more to respond to, as you have to pull a report or are waiting on some data. When that happens, don’t leave them hanging as you gather that information.

If an email is going to take you more than a day to respond to, email the person back quickly and let them know the timeframe. This three-second effort ensures they know you received the email and lets them know when they can expect an answer, as opposed to leaving them wondering if you’ll respond.

6. Writing an email without the person’s name on top.

This is a small thing but you should include the person’s name at the top of the email. Without the name, it makes for a much more abrupt, demanding email, Steiner-Williams said.

7. Not setting up an out-of-office reply when you take time off.

If someone emails you, they generally expect a response within a day or so – unless you are on vacation. Unfortunately, they won’t know that if you don’t set up an out-of-office reply when you do take time off. If you don’t, people will think you are either ignoring them or you are just incompetent at your job, neither one of which is particularly good for your reputation.

On this out-of-office reply, you should always list the name and contact information someone should email if they need an immediate response. While small, this extra touch is incredibly helpful for people who need an answer quickly.

8. Using the “high importance” flag or adding urgency to all your emails.

There are some people who constantly add a sense of urgency to their emails. Either by using the “high importance” flag available in most email systems or simply with an abundance of exclamation points, these people want answers right away, all the time.

This stresses people out, quickly. If something truly is urgent, call. Very rarely should you use the “high importance” flag or demand an email response immediately.

9. Not reviewing your emails when you send them.

Most of us don’t want to spend a lot of time writing emails, so there’s always the temptation to fire them off quickly. But constantly sending emails with misspellings or unclear asks is unprofessional and often requires follow-up emails that only make more work for everyone, Steiner-Williams said.

So take a second and review your emails before you send them out. Your colleagues will appreciate it.

*Image from Dustin and Jennifer Stacey, Flickr

This article merely scratches the surface for mastering business email. Click here to watch Steiner-Williams’ full course on writing email.