The volume of e-mail is growing exponentially and it is predicted that by next year 36 billion e-mail messages will be sent daily.
Although e-mail outstrips other methods of written communication when it comes to speed, the way it is used often leads to delays, misunderstandings and serious damage to business relationships.
Recently I worked with PalmOne on some research into managers' attitudes to e-mail in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Of the managers we interviewed, 61% believed that e-mail can delay business decisions. The major culprit, we discovered, is the widespread neglect of e-mail etiquette. The seven deadly sins of e-mail most resented by managers are:
- Ignorance - not replying to urgent e-mails. For example, 79% of the managers reported having to follow up their e-mails and 25% said they have to chase up more than half their e-mails. This is a major source of irritation in the commercial world and can easily damage business relationships.
- Denial - pretending not to receive someone's e-mail. This excuse is four times more prevalent in Britain than in the other countries. When you have neglected to respond to other people's e-mails, denying receipt is the easiest way to cover your tracks.
- Presuming - the mistake of assuming the recipient has read your e-mail just because you sent it. Out of the respondents, 27% were annoyed by people sending them urgent e-mail messages without using any other methods to underline their importance.
- Waffling - using lots of words when a few will do. More than 20% of the sample was irritated by verbose e-mails and senior managers found waffling particularly irksome. Although people are happy to receive long, wordy e-mails from their friends, they prefer business e-mails to be short and to the point.
- Blitzing - copying messages to people who have no interest in the subject. Up to 25% were indignant about being sent e-mail that had nothing to do with them.
- Sloppiness - this encompasses the sins of bad spelling, clumsy grammar and obscure use of language. We discovered that 81% of managers have negative feelings towards these kinds of errors.
- Tactlessness - getting the tone of an e-mail wrong. Sending short, sharp messages or being overly familiar can easily create the wrong impression. Overall, one person in 10 said they were irritated by tactlessness and, in Germany, this figure rose to one in four.
Peter Collett is a consultant psychologist and author of The book of tells: how to read people's minds from their actions
This was first published in December 2004