The bad use of email: the time-waster electronic letter

Businessman email concept

Since the beginning of the internet times email has been one of the primary tools that people have been using. However, it seems to me that the more we progress in time the less some people know how to use it effectively.

As weird as it may seem people use email to send all sort of emails with endless purposes. I´d say this is the key for all the misunderstandings that occur on a daily basis. I am not intending to create a full list of what people need to remediate as every one of you, readers, will have their own view about this, depending on how you are affected and how you communicate.

The “War and Peace” never ending-long thread email.

I´d like to know why people love long, very long…extremely long emails. They attach previous emails so, if you want to know what is going on, you are forced to scroll down for ages. This is what I call the “War and Peace” format email. After a few emails going backwards and forwards what I´d suggest is someone to cut the chain, summarize in a few lines what is going on (if still the chain needs to be continued) and attach the previous long email should someone still decide to look further into the matter.

The “Chat” email

As good as it may seem an email to communicate due to its format it should be avoided to “speak”. There are many occasions in which people reply, and reply, and again, for nobody knows how many times. Do you really need to send an email to clarify a subject for a fifth time?. Don’t you think that if you have sent an email already four times and you have not made your point across, an additional email will not help? Please, don’t…stop those emails. Pick up the phone and speak (even when you don’t believe it, that is what people do). I have a rule by which if I am involved in three emails and still there is not clarification I just call. Everything will surely be sorted and the only email going afterwards is the one with the agreement reached.

The “Just-in-case I copy you…and everybody else in the company” email

I don’t quite get this: if you are writing to me and are expecting an answer from me, why do you include everybody in the address book. When I look at the long list of recipients I read it just in case I also find there the cleaner or my next door neighbor. There are only two possibilities for this. Either the sender:

  1. Feels obliged to share this email to everyone as he expects the answer to be world-wide-worth it, like if the cure for cancer was going to be disclosed.


  1. The sender is just being pathetic as he/she must defend and justify his time and possible consequences that the email may bring and is covering his/her position “just in case”.

I don’t consider myself so important or knowledgeable, so the answer will probably be 2…enough said. My advice: please, don’t waste people´s time with unneeded emails, call me / write to me, get to the point and, if you wish, send an email just to the people that will find the outcome interesting or need the information. Everything else is an “unfortunate” waste of time.

The “answer-me-now” email

Due to today´s technology and the rapid response we have, it looks like if emails and any other form of internet-like communication were part of the instant-messaging applications to some people. Well, if what you are expecting is to receive an immediate answer I suggest you use some other way of communicating. I´ve heard there is a device called “telephone” which allows to people (at least) to talk to each other and, if you are well manner, can even speak first and listen then to the other person what he/she has to say.

Advice: Do not use email for a rapid / urgent response. If it is important call the other person. There are people that get hundreds of emails every day and yours could be lost in an email ocean.

Same email for different subjects

I love this one. I consider emails should be straight to the point and always subject related. However, I have found many times the same email used all over again just because it had the needed people. After doing this a couple of times you don’t know (at least, I don’t) what was the reason for the email or what needs to happen. What this tells me is that the person sending the email is just lazy. If he/she can not take 30 seconds to create a new email, how do I expect this person to perform on a more sophisticated task…or to perform at all at work?

Lack of email personalization

If you want to get a reply to your email you should pay attention and personalize the email. The more you want from the recipient the more careful you should be. I personally don’t usually read those emails that start with the “Dear Sir / Madam”…let alone those that come with the head “Dear Mr%s% %surname%”…and they do happen (overall with my dear friends “the headhunters” and their databases…but that is a different story.

Proofreading?? No need

If you want something, if you really want it, you should pay attention..again. If you are sending an email and want the reader to listen to you then be careful not only with what you send, but also with how you send it. If you are making mistakes, spelling & grammar errors, etc then the reader will probably focus on those and will get distracted from the message you want to send, caring only for the “form”. Write carefully and, if it is important, let the email “rest” for a couple of hours in your draft-tray and re-read it. You´ll probably safe yourself from some embarrassment.

BCC (Blind Carbon Copy)

I can only imagine that this feature was included at the beginning of email as some way of resorting to inform in an obscure way, which has been kept until nowadays. I don’t like this, furthermore, I encourage my team not to use it, ever. I believe in open and honest communication. This is the only way to advance between people. I understand that there are companies where using BCC is a common practice…I would not like to be there as I consider BCC as backstabbing. If you have something to say, say it. There is no need to be dishonest with the person you are sending the email to.

Disclaimer to this point: The only exception in which BCC would be allowed to be used is when using it to communicate at group level and want to make sure you dont get emails all over the place with silly replies…believe me, it happens.

Forward without permission

This is pretty tricky. Within the same company is normal that emails come and go, are forwarded in many cases in order to resolve whatever matters. What I am talking here is the email in which you receive information due to your position and you send it to someone else and this email could potentially damage or alter the rights or position of the original sender. Be careful because disclosing information that was sent just for you may put you in trouble (also legally speaking) should you misuse that information resending it.

The invisible signature

Let´s say that you have my attention, your email seems interesting to me and I want to speak with you in regards to the information provided…but there is nothing under your name at the end of the email. Make sure that there is always a way for the other person to get back to you, especially if it is the first email you send to this recipient.

Replying to “all” unintentionally

Always be careful when replying to an email if you are not the only person included originally. It is very simple to hit “reply to all” and NOT just “reply”. Should you be including information in the email that is meant only for the sender, pressing “reply to all” will share information that maybe you only wanted the original sender to see. Always check your “to:” and “cc:”. Depending on the information you provide and who reads it you may lose your job.

Sending an email to the wrong person

This has happened to all of us at some point. Writing and email to a person with similar name or letting Outlook pick the person up is what creates this chaotic situation. As careful as you can be sending information to the wrong person may have serious consequences…just spend 10 seconds re-reading your recipients, it may save you from hours of excusing.

Emailing when angry

We are all humans and there can be a situation that “is asking” for a strong reply…just don’t!!! Hold back, you may send something that you would not normally send and will later regret. If you really think you have to send it after a few hours (or better, the following day), then nothing will stop you from sending it.

However, 99% of the times you will either “retouch” the email or not send it at all. Personal tip I use in these circumstances: I type an empty email with everything I have to say and let it stay in my draft until the following day…I usually never send it.

Read the entire email before replying

How often do we reply to an email without considering what was written previously? In many occasions we take for granted that the other people will be as considered as we are with the information we are providing…and this assumption may have serious consequences or even cost our job. Make sure you know what you are sending as you are liable for the information provided.

Forgetting the attachment

I would say this is the sin number one in the busy and stressful life we live as it happens so often. It is so easy to write up your message, enter the receipt details, and then click the send button, before attaching the attachment. Should this happen, it’s not the end of the world, but can be embarrassing having to send a follow up message with the appropriate attachment. So always check first, before pressing the send button.

Sending the wrong attachment

While not sending an attachment may seem silly, sending the wrong one may be even worse. Always check what you are sending, especially when handling confidential information, and deliver professionally.

Manners, manners, manners…it is all about manners

When you speak to a person in front of you I am sure you have some manners, use courtesy and treat the other person with respect…or this should be the norm. I don’t understand why people lose all this when they are typing an email. I believe that many people think that the recipient will be some sort of robot. If you behave in a way in front of people try to mirror that in your emails. I think this email-transforming behavior has much to do with the transformation of people when they drive…something to think about and see the correlation between both behaviors J

All and all, when writing an email think: How do I want people to see me? Your email is your presentation card as it will show your professionalism and your education. Next time you write an email, take a five minute break and re-read. Would you like to be with the person writing that email? Remember, an email can open…or close many doors. 


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