Email Etiquette Advice for Your Work or Internship

work_emailThis summer I’ve been interning at a company back home in South Florida since the beginning of June. The internship ends three days before my first day of classes at UNC-Chapel Hill. That is (obviously) a tight time frame to make a 12 hour drive up, move my belongings out of my storage unit in Durham, have movers lug my stuff up three flights up stairs, and unpack – and you can’t forget the several last minute grocery store and Target trips. I tried to be smart about this situation and decided I’d move my stuff up in the beginning of August since I have to pay the full month of rent regardless of when I move in.

I told my human resources manager that I had no travel conflicts for the summer with the exception of one weekend in which I’d need to move myself in. I said I wouldn’t miss a day, but I may need to leave a little early one Friday – a little early as in TWO hours. Apparently, the manager wasn’t reading my e-mail carefully enough and I had to resend the same e-mail multiple times.

Eventually, I got frustrated because I didn’t understand how I could be any clearer. So the last e-mail I sent, I capitalized the particular sentence he appeared to not be seeing. I thought that was acceptable because how else would I handle the situation? I couldn’t say “Listen, how are you not getting this?!” So, finally the manager approved it, and I was incredibly proud of how I handled the situation.

But then life happened. Conflicts arrive and sometimes we can’t control them. My parents needed me to leave earlier than 2 hours on that Friday. I told my manager and he copy and pasted my previous email and highlighted the part in which I said “I will only need to leave 2 hours early.” Me leaving two more hours early shouldn’t have been that big of a deal, right? Um, WRONG.

So how could I have avoided this awkward and tense situation with my manager? Well it’s a little something called e-mail etiquette. Here are 5 simple tips on how to write appropriate e-mails with your coworkers:

1. If possible, step away from the situation and take a deep breath because you may regret saying something unprofessional and harmful to your job at the company.

2. If possible, have a coworker, friend, or family member read the e-mail and give you advice. It is always helpful to hear a third party perspective especially because there is no emotional connection to the situation.

3. Acknowledge the other persons side to the situation.

4. Be professional (proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation), be efficient (get to the point – no fluff or excuses), and protect yourself (make sure what you say doesn’t put you or the company in a liability suit). If you know you’re a hundred percent in the right, reforward the previous email you sent to demonstrate the error was not on your part. As simple note like “We seem to being experiencing some miscommunication. I’ve attached XYZ email for clarity” is a nice way of saying, “You totally didn’t read carefully and instead of freaking out about it, here’s proof that this wasn’t my fault.”

5. Do not write in capitals or bold anything.

6. Take responsibility, accountability, and ownership for your actions and words.

All of these tips should prevent you from giving off a bad vibe and sounding like your attacking the person. It’s all about the lack of intonation that inherently exists in e-mail communication. If you’re still concerned about your e-mails, you can download ToneCheck (currently only available on Windows), which is an e-mail tool that scans your message and advises you to anything that is confusing or has a negative connotation.

By Erin McClary, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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