5 Ways People Dislike Your Emails (And Possibly You)

An interesting bit of research came to my attention recently, courtesy of the BBC website. It concerned the findings of Professor David De Cremer from Cambridge University’s Judge Business School who’d looked into the emotional undergrowth of office email (at least that’s how the BBC put it).

From what he uncovered, Professor De Cremer highlighted 10 things many people do when sending an email, which could lead the recipient to dislike or even distrust them. (Which, from a personal brand point of view, is the last thing you’d want).

I’ve picked out the five most impactful to share with you here, along with my thoughts and tips for considering your brand before you hit ‘send’. (I’ve include a link to the full article further down if you want to see the other five):

1. The CC effect

The article says: When people keep copying in a manager, it doesn’t create transparency, but feeds a culture of fear. (Using BCC is also on the list, with the article calling it ‘the WMD of email, invisible but potentially massively destructive. And if anyone finds out you’re using these underhand tactics, it will be self-destructive too.’)

I say: A good rule of thumb to decide if someone should be cc’d into the email or not is to ask yourself ‘What is it I want that person to do with this information?’ If the only answer you can come up with is ‘Nothing, I’m just covering my arse’ then you may want to reconsider.

2. “I am here, really.”

The article says: This is where email is used to tell colleagues near and far that you’re actually at work. A random sharing of a document would do the trick, with a few words of insightful comment to show you’re really on the case. There’s also the ‘midnight express’ version, sending round an email when everyone else with any sense is in the pub or their pyjamas.

I say: With more and more of us working remotely, it’s hard to stay on people’s radars when you’re not in their eye-line, so it’s a canny idea to find ways to remind people ‘I’m here’. The thing to focus on is making your message pertinent, by thinking about the value it’ll add to the recipients; share information that will make them pleased you got in touch, instead of the ‘random’ stuff that’s purely proclaiming your existence.

3. To X or not to X?

The article says: How do you sign off an email? These are the questions that feed our online anxiety. If someone sends a work email with a big X at the end do you send one back? And if you don’t, does it make you look rude and uptight? There are also people who sign off just with a single initial, like the monogram of an electronic monarch. According to Prof De Cremer, the type of sign-off most likely to get a response is, “With thanks in advance”. Polite but expectant.

I say: Sign-offs in general are often underestimated in terms of just how much they will say about your personal brand (the article’s mention of the monogram adding some regal haughtiness being one illustration of just how much people can read into the smallest thing). Subtle words can give subtle clues, so consider what you want to convey: even the nuances between ‘regards’, ‘with regards’, ‘kindest regards’, ‘best regards’, ‘warm regards’, ‘all my regards’ can be felt.

4. The disaster that still makes you wince years later

The article says: There’s no escaping it. It happens as though Fate has its own irresistible send button. You’ve just sent an email about the person you’re slagging off to the person you’re slagging off. This overshadows all other minor indiscretions such as sending to Reply All and telling the entire building about why you can’t go to a leaving party.

I say: I haven’t fallen foul of this myself, but I’ve been close to the action when the poop has hit the fan. My first thought was, ‘There but for the grace of god go I’. My second was, ‘Any time I write anything disparaging about someone, I’m going to imagine it accidentally hitting their inbox. Then I’m going to rewrite it.’

Because even if you triple-check it’s going to your intended recipient, not the twonk you’re slagging off, you can’t be sure it won’t be accidentally forward it on. As a way of keeping my brand intact, this has certainly worked so far.

5. The baffling non-responder

The article says: This is the shark in the water of email. You’ve sent something pretty direct and then you wait. Maybe they missed it, so you come up with another excuse to re-send. And nothing. What does it mean? Are they really there? The mid-conversation non-responders are even weirder. They ask you a question, you reply to open up the exchange and then total radio silence. Hello?

I say: Non-responders may not realise it, but they’re slowly chipping away at the credibility of their personal brand, one ignored email at a time.

On the flipside, this is a perfect opportunity for anyone wanting to create a positive impression of their brand: you simply reply to people’s emails, preferably within 48 hours. I do and it’s telling just how many replies begin with the words ‘Thank you for getting back to me so quickly.’ I haven’t been especially quick, I just haven’t been a non-responder.

Are you guilty?

With so many of us sending so many emails, take a minute to ask yourself if you’re guilty of any of those five misdemeanors. And if you want to check out the others the study identified, here’s the full article.

Before you read that though, what winds you up when it comes to emails? We’ve all got our bug-bears, so why not take a second to share yours with a comment below.

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