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Business Email Informality and Mistakes in Judgment

Business Email Mistakes Happen -- it's how you handle them.

Once we discover mistakes have been made, how we handle email errors, whether in judgment or oversights, separates the professionals from the rest. In particular, the biggest mistake in business emails is simply not paying attention to your actions.

Assuming an informal approach is a common misstep in business email communications. Inappropriate informality neglects to give your email the attention required for the best results.

I understand this point of view with non-business personal emails. However, never underestimate the importance of formality in business email communications.

Business is Not Informal

While some businesses have a more relaxed environment, business communications must always be professional. Some of the basics are commonly underestimated in their importance.

  • Lack of a greeting, closing, or proper sentence structure to set the desired tone.
  • Simple actions include hitting Reply to All to CYA, embarrassing others, or playing politics.
  • You are adding business contacts to your email blasts that do not “need to know” (or didn’t ask to be on your list).

The above are common errors or mistakes in judgment, primarily because we are taking an informal approach.

Informalities Lead to Misunderstandings

Business communications need to be clear and concise. Here are a few examples:

  • Miscommunication of Tone: Using overly casual language can sometimes convey an unintended tone or lack of seriousness, which the recipient might misconstrue. For instance, starting an email with “Hey there” instead of “Hello” might be too familiar or disrespectful to some recipients.
  • Confusion on Urgency: If you use informal language, you might not convey the urgency of a request or the seriousness of a situation. For example, saying, “Can you get to this sometime?” might not clearly communicate that the task is important and needs to be addressed promptly.
  • Lack of Clarity: Informal language might lead to ambiguity or confusion regarding expectations. Using slang or colloquialisms that are not universally understood can create misunderstandings. For instance, saying, “Let’s touch base about that thing,” might not clearly communicate what specifically needs to be discussed or addressed.
  • Professional Image: Using overly informal language can undermine your professional image and credibility. Maintaining professionalism in business communication ensures your colleagues, clients, or business partners take you seriously and respect you.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Different cultures have different norms and expectations regarding communication styles. Being too informal might be perceived as disrespectful or inappropriate in some cultural contexts, leading to misunderstandings or strained relationships.

Time to Pay Attention

We do this mainly because we are in a rush and do not pay attention to details. Just know that when you rush, you risk errors that can create unimpressed or disgruntled business contacts.

Part of using technology and email properly for business, a.k.a. commercial gain, is thinking about how your actions can garner the best perception possible and how those actions, or lack thereof, may impact the other side.

Overall, while a certain level of informality can help build rapport and create a relaxed atmosphere in business communication, it’s crucial to strike the right balance and always consider the context and preferences of the recipients to avoid misunderstandings.

You made these mistakes; now what?

  • You send comments inadvertently to the wrong person, are overly informal, or are improper. When you discover your mistake, immediately apologize—not necessarily by email. Only you know the magnitude of your error. If necessary, have the intestinal fortitude to apologize in person. When that is not possible, pick up your phone.
  • When a contact asks to be removed from your list that they didn’t ask to be on in the first place, promptly, kindly, and professionally honor their request, including an apology for any inconvenience; only this approach contributes to salvaging the relationship.
  • You send to everyone you know in the To field, exposing your contacts to strangers. There is no excuse for this breach of privacy. Let your connections know you have seen the light and will never do such a thing again.

These are just a few things that can negatively impact your business relationships. Don’t be like so many and point fingers or create excuses when you mess up. Just that attitude causes many to fail (at their job, business, or even personal life).

Stand Tall and Accountable

Instead, stand out from the crowd and show humility by reflecting on personal accountability for your actions. If you make a mistake, don’t compound the issue by offering excuses for not paying attention. That’s a red flag that other matters in your business purview are probably not being considered.

Learning from the experience and offering a prompt apology is a true sign of character. And guess what? Character is one of the main reasons people choose to do business with you.

Share the knowledge!

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