In my opinion, there are few things that have revolutionized how we live, work and connect with others quite as dramatically as email. We all know, however, that it’s not all smiley faces: In a way that’s not much different from how we conduct ourselves in other venues, bad manners abound.
I get irritated by bad email behavior and I am evidently not alone. I recently found this piece on email habits that are best avoided when I was perusing CNN.com. While the habits addressed by the authors are fairly standard offenses, there are three about which I am what you might call passionate. The first is sending mails with a blank subject line. The second is an apparent addiction to High Importance and “URGENT” in the subject line. The last one is the apparent aversion to spell check these days.
Emails with empty subject lines are like stories without headlines. They’re like streets without signs. Sending one makes zero sense. Rather than delve into it, though, I’d like to expand on it and offer up one of my own pet peeves. When an e-mail message starts out as a discussion about an upcoming team meeting and then morphs into a debate about new product features and then evolves yet again into a group review of updated web copy, please, either start a new message trail with a new subject (and attach the previous discussion if you must) or take a moment and change the subject line. Your readers will appreciate not having to dig through a pile of messages in search of that one nugget that has nothing to do with the words in the subject line.
When it comes to thinking of most of the messages you’re sending as a “high importance” or marked URGENT in the subject line, the concept is simple but worth repeating: When everything is deemed important, nothing is. The problem is that there are no hard and fast rules for differentiating the urgent from the mundane. I did a quick check – more than 25 percent of my emails in my inbox have “high importance” checked on them. Yikes.
Whether or not either message is really important is almost entirely contextual, which is probably a good place to take a brief pause before you click on that red exclamation mark. I have a friend whose take on it is that deciding your message is “important” is like barging into someone’s office and demanding that everything else be dropped immediately. It’s hard to disagree.
Lastly, I don’t understand why people don’t use the spell check function on their email. It is so fast and effective. In today’s crazy busy world, spell check is like a personal assistant that takes a quick lint brush to your message to be sure it is ready for prime time.
I know we all have our favorite annoyances when it comes to e-mail. Please, by all means, share yours here.