Email Etiquette

I look back at each day and figure out what lesson I learned from it. Then I share that day’s lesson here, because I am a little crazy and narcissistic.


Email (or instant messaging or texting) etiquette has been covered many times in many ways by many people. Still, I thought I would share four of my own guidelines for leaders that have helped me improve and streamline communication with my team.

1.  Do NOT assume content. I am still surprised when people complain about “the attitude” of something said in an email. Text has no attitude. I remind people not to assume emotional content. If someone did not type, “You are a jerk and I do not like you”, then do not fill in the blank with your own low self-esteem.

2.  DO assume intent (and assume it was good). If the same message can be read five different ways (e.g., snarky, funny, angry, indifferent, cheerful), then assume the way that makes you feel best is the way it was written. The only “attitude” an email has is the one the reader assigns it. Since people rarely go out of their way to ruin other people’s lives or day, if you have to assume intent, assume the message was intended in the most positive way possible.

3.  Do NOT assume everyone needs to know everything. Use your BCC function! Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) is different from Carbon Copy (CC) in that the original sender is the only person who can see who was copied on a message. BCC is great for sending a message to a big group, for example, so the message header is not cluttered with a bunch of email addresses to scroll past. BCC is also useful when you want someone else to know you sent a message (your boss, for example) but you do not necessarily want the recipient to respond to anyone but you (you might not want a vendor to have your boss’s email address, e.g.). Using BCC also helps prevent the “Reply All” syndrome. That is when someone clicks “reply all” instead of “reply” and spams every recipient with their answer, which was only supposed to go to the sender.

4.  DO assume everyone is grateful and always gets the joke (but they are busy). We all dislike email clutter so why contribute to the problem? Please do not send messages that just say “thanks, lol, or :-), etc.”. Assume everyone responds within the normal social context of any verbal conversation. I do not need 50 messages each day that are only responses to social cues. If I make a joke in an email, I just assume you understood it and thought it was funny. Incidentally, people rarely laugh out loud at written jokes, so “lol” is inappropriate on its face.


No one I know likes to feel as if they are drowning in email and everyone I know has more email spam messages than they would like. We can take some control back by explaining these 4 principles to our teams and start practicing them. Email, messaging, texting, etc. can be powerful forms of communication or waste bins for grammar overkill. If you have to send a message, why not make it a powerful one?