You know what really grinds my e-mail gears?

Today I received an e-mail that was both flagged with a high importance red exclamation point and requested that I send a read receipt.  However, it turns out that the e-mail was neither “highly important” nor required urgent reading.  There are definitely a lot of e-mail manners that are violated on the interweb everyday.  Here are just a few that bother me (in what I believe to be order of severity).

Violation 8:  Assuming the person goes by a shortened name
Maybe I’m partial to this because everyone assumes that my name is “Matt” no matter how much I try to use Matthew – especially in a professional setting.  However, I try to stick to what’s listed in a digital signature unless someone offers a less formal name at the end of their message.

Violation 7: Using “Hey” in the salutation line
This one is largely personal preference, and was something that I had never thought about until I did a co-op with GE Healthcare.  The reality of starting an e-mail with “Hey ____,” is that it’s very informal.  When I e-mail my brother or someone who I go to the Karaoke Kidd at one in the morning with, it’s probably ok.  For anyone else in a professional setting, especially a superior, it’s probably inappropriate.

Violation 6:  E-mailing a co-worker sitting next door
My dad always told me growing up to never do something over the phone which can be done just as easily (and probably more effectively) in person.  I believe this is also true about my own “e-mail generation.”  I don’t want to work in an office where face-to-face conversations are a thing of the past and when I have entire work days of only staring at my computer monitor, I’m much more fatigued than after a day of meetings with human interaction.  Receiving an e-mail from someone who sits 10 feet away asking me a yes or no question is just ridiculous.

Violation 5: Replying without my original message thread
I send and receive a lot of e-mails every day (sometimes during the school year as many as 150) and I have four different e-mail accounts IMAPed to my MS Outlook program.  Therefore, when I receive an e-mail response without my original message or an action item that I need to take care of with no thread history to provide background, it’s confusing and can be very time consuming for me to figure out what the person is talking about.

Violation 4: Accidental “Reply to all”
Check out the following thread, compliments of my classmate Scott:

—–Original Message—–
From: “Scott”
Sent: Wednesday, March 04, 2009 7:48 PM
To: “Matthew”
Subject: Re: RE: ISyE undergrad funding and valuable practical/project experience opportunity

I apparently sent this to the whole IE undergrad

—– Original Message —–
From: “Matthew”
Date: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 2:09 pm
Subject: RE: ISyE undergrad funding and valuable practical/project experience opportunity
To: “Scott”

Did you intend to send this to me?

—–Original Message—–
From: “Scott”
Sent: Wednesday, March 04, 2009 12:08 PM
To: “Raj”
Cc:; “Roger”
Subject: Re: ISyE undergrad funding and valuable practical/project experience opportunity

I have a play I need to go to for acting at 730 and can work whenever that ends.

—– Original Message —–
From: “Raj”
Date: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 7:46 pm
Subject: ISyE undergrad funding and valuable practical/project experience opportunity
Cc: “Raj”, “Roger”

ISyE Undergrad Student Assistants

Starting Summer 2009 and subsequent semesters (15 – 20 hours per week)


Oops…  Although, I appreciated that my friend Scott wanted to let me know that he was going to a play that night, I’m sure the rest of my department’s undergraduate mailing list wasn’t as interested.  The professor, “Raj” (who happens to be my boss) he was e-mailing about the job offer and “Roger” (who happens to be my supervisor) were probably just as disinterested.

Violation 3: Angry e-mails
Tone is never portrayed well in an e-mail and in my experience sending someone an e-mail while in a heated mood almost always does more damage than good (especially in destroying future communication barriers and trust).  Using an e-mail in which caps lock is used to “yell” at someone is also insulting.  My biggest problem with this, however, is that a co-worker wouldn’t have the decency to talk to me face-to-face about a conflict, but rather finds it necessary to e-mail you and rub it in by copying a few of your co-workers or supervisors.  This is also known as “copying up” and one of the most ridiculous experiences I had with it came after I missed a church music rehearsal and the director decided to reprimand me with an e-mail in which our parish priest was copied.

Violation 2: Unnecessary flagging with “high importance”
An e-mail which is flagged as “highly important” (the red exclamation point) gets subconsciously sifted to my “highly unimportant” e-mail folder.  E-mail importance is in the eye of the beholder and I’ll decide which messages in my inbox make the list.

Violation 1: Read receipts
To me the single most insulting e-mail habit is sending a read receipt with a message and it causes me to instantly lose interest (or maybe respect for the sender) for whatever the e-mail was about.  To me, this informs the recipient, “I don’t think you’re responsible enough to respond to my e-mail in a timely manner so I’m going to make you feel guilty and let me know how soon you’ll take care of the issue.”  This is especially annoying when you are a part time research assistant and you check e-mail at all hours of the day.  This option can also be turned off (at the risk of your untrustworthy coworkers thinking you never read their e-mails).  The only thing worse than an e-mail with a read receipt is one that contains both a read receipt and a “high importance” flag.

…and please don’t send facebook messages which contain any importance whatsoever, unless it has to do with going to the Karaoke Kidd…

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. David K

    “Hey” bro,

    Great summary. This morning I got an email from a physician with a ‘high importance’ alert on it. I guess she has a meeting later today and needs some data. Is it my fault that she didn’t get around to this until today?

    Maybe even more annoying than the ‘accidental’ reply all is the ‘purposeful’ reply alls. Like if someone sends an email out about a party, and someone reply’s to all, “I’ll be there!”…great I wasn’t sure about that party until I specifically knew that person was going!

  2. Andrew Dolan

    The only thing that beat Scott’s email was Jayme hitting the reply all button to Scott’s reply that told Scott he was an idiot for hitting the wrong button.

  3. Dad

    I love your first line, “…what really grinds my … gears.” Have you been watching the Ed Show at 5PM CT on CSNBC? He starts out every show with a list of his hot buttons and then proceeds to talk in depth about what really has him ‘fired up.’ (PS. I agree with all of your email etiquette points.)

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