What Email Habits and Manners Reveal

Email is a tool that evolved with the internet and is ubiquitous in today’s workplace. After working in several offices with people of different generations I’ve noticed that email use and understanding of how others use email varies widely, and can be a significant source of stress. To try to alleviate some of this stress I recently created a guide called How to: Get the Most Out of Your Email.

As someone under the age of 30, I have been using email since I was a teenager, and I receive a large volume of email related to lots of projects I’m involved in. As a result, I usually check email throughout the day. I rarely read it carefully though, and I focus on getting the gist of the messages in my inbox rather than use it for nuanced communication. If my inbox was a newspaper I would be a chronic reader of headlines only, and rarely would read any article in its entirety.

I’ve noticed that people who started using email a little in their lives use it quite differently.They often take more time in reading and composing their messages, a practice I could probably benefit from incorporating. Other practices, such as using “reply all” without discretion, changing the subject line in the middle of a message thread, or continuing to use older email clients like Yahoo, Hotmail, or the dreaded AOL, make me cringe. To me, these practices are clear indicators of a lack of comfort and proficiency with technology. Yet I don’t think people who use email with these habits realize what they are revealing with them. 

Of course there is a wide range of habits and familiarity with email, which also makes it hard to discuss these practices and give clear explanations as to why some are considered less professional. In the context of courteous social interactions I think these behaviors are similar to mispronouncing a word in public (like paradigm, for example). When this happens, the pronouncer automatically seems a little less knowledgeable, but no matter how wrong they are, it is really hard to correct the error politely without seeming like a know-it-all.

Although there isn’t a definitive authority on email use, there is culture of use that has developed along with the internet which I am familiar and comfortable with. I drew on this culture as I understand it to create the guide. I imagine that other customs and manners, like those involved in a tea ceremony, evolved in a similar way among groups that became more familiar with the reasoning behind the practices. I hope this guide helps people use email efficiently and prevents anyone from unintentionally seeming less adept with technology in a professional setting. Comments or suggestions are welcome.

Georgia Guthrie's picture
Georgia Guthrie is a Senior Designer at The Action Mill