Our biggest email pet peeves
Email: we love it, we hate it, we love to hate it. The constant hurricane of inbox distraction can effectively knock 10 points off your IQ, and we all lose time attempting to rev our mental engines back up after being sidetracked by emails (to be fair, this is also true of in-person distractions). On the other hand, you’ve probably been dragged into a meeting or two that could have easily been converted into a painless and brisk email exchange.
We’ve already considered a few ways to make your business emails more effective and to guard against misinterpretation (sarcasm, for example, is only correctly detected by about half of email recipients).
Here are some of the worst ways that email is used and abused (and that email uses and abuses us).
Email is a perfectly effective way to pass along a document to a collaborator. Trouble arises when multiple reviewers and multiple versions become involved.
Speaking of versions, we hear versions of the same story all the time: email just isn’t cut out for intensive team collaboration. It wasn’t designed for it.
“Half the files were in somebody’s email, the other half were on the shared drive, and it was unclear which files were the most recent – we had a lot of that,” FleishmanHillard’s Meredith Bradshaw told us. “There was one Excel spreadsheet that had usernames and passwords in it and you hoped it was updated, but it was always a little unclear.”
“An inbox is not a healthy environment,” Claire Haidar told us at Collabosphere.
The volunteering standoff
I need one person reading this to send me a pizza.
End result: everyone is going to assume (and hope) someone else volunteers to complete that task, and I will be left pizza-less and having to follow up with another ineffective group email. By the time someone takes action, I’ve probably gone ahead and done it myself.
When addressing a group, make your expectations clear if you’re expecting your recipients to spring into action.
The dread of the day after your “Out of Office” auto-reply period
Setting your OoO auto-reply is an exciting moment in any professional’s life; you can all but hear Alice Cooper singing “School’s Out” when you make your final click.
This, of course, doesn’t stop the avalanche of heads-ups and FYIs and Ccs and sales vendors asking you if you’ve been abducted by aliens. Hopefully you come back from your time away from the office feeling recharged. What worse way to spend that energy than digging through the detritus of your inbox?
No technology is going to entirely combat FOMO or end the game of catch-up, but collaboration tools make it a lot easier to get yourself back up to speed.
“I don’t have to search through emails to catch up on what’s been happening [while I’ve been gone],” said Leopard account executive Melissa Gordon. “I can just go to [iMeet Central], I go to our project page, and I can just scan quickly through the past few conversations.”
I don’t run into this too often anymore—a sign of great coworkers, perhaps, or a testament to people not feeling so overwhelmed by their inboxes anymore—but it’s always worth reminding business communicators that there’s a difference between efficient and brusque.
The overly inclusive or passive-aggressive carbon copy
Often well-intentioned, perhaps driven by dreams of transparency, emailers will sometimes blast all sorts of recipients in the Cc field. Other times, they deliberately include your boss in the hopes you will be properly pilloried for forgetting to dot some i or cross some t. Collaboration tools can’t entirely relieve the latter sort of chicanery, but do help reduce those moments of “Why am I on this thread???”