Email etiquette – do you get it?

Reply, ignore or delete? Don’t blow away friends and clients

‘Bloody emails’, I hear you say, as you bin another one.

Most of the time, I’m with you. Yes, our email can feel a bit out of control, but we need to think before we act…

The basic menu of actions is read/save; read and reply/save; glance and ignore; delete.

1.   Just doing read/save is a weakness of the legal profession. For example, we tell our clients “I need XYZ documents emailed to me by COB tomorrow”. They duly comply and we see that as an end to it.

Clients, though, will be wondering, “Did he get them/Were they OK? Is everything under control?”

The point is that it isn’t enough for us to know things are under control – we have to confirm it. So we say, “Thanks for dealing with this so promptly… all in order and greatly appreciated”. It takes 10 seconds.

‘Thank you’ not only signifies completion of the task at hand, but it also gives your clients another reason to like you. And a personal touch when signing off – like “Enjoy your weekend” – is even better. The general rule is – make ‘thank you’ the end communication (either can say it).

2.     Non-matter emails from our network need thoughtful attention. My general rule here is: Is the sender communicating at a personal level? In other words, my colleague says, “Hey Pete – saw this pp45/6 today’s AFR and thought right up your alley”. His motives are neither here nor there. We should say thanks in these situations as a basic courtesy. (It makes good business sense as well.)

Broadcast emails, even from friends, are different. You can ignore them. So – I would say, if a friend personally asks you to a golf day, you should reply, but if you are simply on a list from their mail server, there is no discourtesy in not replying.

3.     We can also be more efficient dealing with emails we don’t want from people we don’t know. The general goal is to fix the problem in the system so it is fixed permanently.

Set your spam filters at the level you are comfortable with (you or your systems people). Review the junk files every couple of weeks. Check on unintended filtering. Adjust the levels as necessary.

Never just delete – ideally unsubscribe, and/or label as ‘Junk’ and ‘Block Sender’.

Finally, the key message is, don’t allow your understandable impatience with emails from strangers to adversely influence how you respond to friends and clients. And once more for the road with friends, colleagues and clients, the cycle is complete when someone says ‘thank you’.

Published: Queensland Law Society – Proctor – August 2016 

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