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How to Avoid Sending Rude Emails

If the majority of communication is visual than email is a terrible vehicle for delivering a message. I'm surprised by how few young people use email but in the adult world of work, email is king.

The problem of course is that email tends to take up more and more room.  Let it grow and it will weigh on our psyche as well.  That's why inbox management is now at the level of the martial arts.

I told a group last year that the most vital thing they could do might be to clear out their inboxes.  They doubted the advice until a few months later a participant emailed me to thank me.  "I had no idea how important a clean inbox really was," he wrote.  Simple stuff.  Hard to do.

A Tale of Two Emails
Let's look at one email as interpreted two ways.

Sender: Hi Joe, wondering about your availability for Tuesday's budget meeting.

Responder: Not available.

Some might see this email as a quick reply to a brief inquiry.  Others might see it as downright rude.  I see this all of the time as "busy people" (are you one?) send missives to others, leaving the responders feeling as if they did something wrong to deserve such rudeness.

I recently sent out a meeting request to a group of important folks.  One person responded politely by explaining why he couldn't be there while another wrote back, "Cannot attend".  You can imagine which person is now a bit lower on my favorites list.

Whether you're trying to be rude or not, it's worthwhile to be nice in your emails.  How to do this?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Use a salutation: "Dear" and "Hi" go a long way.  You don't need to create elaborate happy faces but acknowledging the other person as a person is vital.

  • Be brief but pleasant: Don't be afraid to use a "Thanks Bill" or "Not a problem Susan" somewhere in your email.  Brief is good as long as you never forget to be pleasant.

  • Ask: Could this be seen as rude?  Your best friend can probably absorb a super brief email back but very few others deserve the same treatment.


One final suggestion- if your email is so long that it takes you a while to type it, pick up the phone.  It still works just fine.

*photo by kbaird

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