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Etiquette and Advice from the Emily Post Institute

Business Email Etiquette

Q.  Help! I just hit "Reply All" instead of just "Reply" when I sent my e-mail. And what I said was not very complimentary about my supervisor who was on the cc: list! What’s the right thing to do?

A. You need to immediately fall on your sword. Go to your supervisor, explain what you did and apologize. It is much better for you to take responsibility for your actions than if you wait for her to come and find you to discuss the issue. Also, contact the other individuals on the cc: list and apologize to them for inadvertently including them in your response. Next time, slow down and think before clicking. And if you are angry or emotional, step away from the computer!
Q. I blind-copied a colleague on an e-mail and then found out that he had discussed the e-mail’s contents with the official recipient. How can I let this colleague know that the e-mail’s contents weren’t to be discussed?

A. Blind copies often lead to misunderstandings. If you want to share the information in an e-mail with someone, forward the e-mail that you sent the official recipient to the third party with a message saying something like, "Charles, I sent this e-mail to Rick earlier today. I want to keep you in the loop but I don’t want you to discuss it with him yet. I’ll follow up with you tomorrow. Thanks."
Q. I have a co-worker who always sends me e-mails with words and sometimes whole sentences in capital letters. Isn’t this considered shouting in the world of e-mail etiquette?

A. It does feel intrusive when you receive an e-mail in all caps. Check around with other co-workers. Are his e-mails to them in caps too? If so, using capitalization might just be a thoughtless habit. Perhaps a close colleague of his or a supervisor could let him know that capitalization used in that manner can be interpreted as angry or yelling. If you are the only one receiving e-mails with capitalization emphasis, and this is bothering you, talk to him. Let him know how you feel when you receive an e-mail in all caps and update him on the no caps guideline.
Other e-mail tips:
  • Never send confidential or sensitive-information materials, such as contracts and salaries, electronically. E-mail is not private.
  • Don't let your personal communications become voluminous or time-consuming. Many companies do random checks of employees' e-mails: you don’t want your "Sent Box" full of personal correspondence.
  • Don't over use emoticons – those little digital faces you can insert. While some of your colleagues might think they’re cute, an equal number will feel they are unprofessional, or just plain annoying.

About the
Emily Post Institute
The Emily Post Institute, created by Emily in 1946 and run today by third generation family members, serves as a "civility barometer" for American society and continues Emily's work. That work has grown to address the societal concerns of the 21st century including business etiquette, raising polite children and civility in America.
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