10 of the most annoying things you can do in an email
Posted on 30th August 2020 at 11:37
... and one thing that didn't make the list!
Ask anyone who uses email regularly what they find most annoying about it and they will probably be able to tell you straight away.
1. The person who tells you they’ve sent you an email a few moments ago then goes on to tell you everything in that email
If you’ve sent someone an email, you’ve probably done so because you felt it was the best way to communicate what it was you wanted to say. It’s highly unlikely that the person won’t have received your email, so going and telling them about it is wasting everyone’s time.
2. Copying in too many / the wrong people
Our level 4 Education and Training student Dawn Sheppard told us about this one, adding “99% of the time there is absolutely no need,”
Think about who really needs to read your email. Use the To section to include the person or people who need to see it and respond. You can then use the CC (courtesy copy) section to include people who could do with reading the email but don’t need to reply to it.
It can be really annoying and time consuming to be copied into emails you don’t need to read… throw in several ‘reply alls’ and lots of people are going to get very annoyed!
Speaking of which…
3. Using Reply All inappropriately – or accidentally!
This can happen as a direct result of having too many / the wrong people copied into an email! Imagine you’ve sent an email to eight people. It was originally meant for Amanda, but you’ve copied in seven other people. One of those people – Alan – replies to you asking why he’s been copied in. But he’s hit reply to all rather than reply, which means that everyone in that email list has received the email. This is embarrassing for you and annoying (or exciting if Alan is stroppy in his reply) for everyone else. There are lots of times when reply to all is appropriate, but always think twice before using it. Google embarrassing reply all emails for some absolute horror stories! Recalling your email won’t always work!
4. Using an inappropriate greeting or no greeting at all
In a recent survey by Perkbox, greetings such as these were thought to be some of the most annoying:
Happy Friday! - annoying for weekend workers or those who are in fact dreading the weekend
Hey - over friendly and unprofessional
To whom it may concern - Lazy and impersonal, especially if you have the person’s email address and know their name!
A simple ”Hi”, “Hello” or “Dear Name” is absolutely fine and unlikely to annoy anyone.
Dear Sir/Madam should be completely avoided. We received an invoice a few months ago, which began “Dear Sirs”. There are no Sirs at SKL Training and the organisation sending the invoice had our names and had been emailing us using them… There’s no reason for it, ever.
5. Using email clichés
This is a really tricky one… often we will need to follow up on an email we’ve sent but not received a reply to and some clichés simply roll off the keyboard. But the Perkbox survey found these ones to be the most annoying:
Just looping in – this means to keep someone informed of what’s happening. So you might say ‘just looping Amanda in to this email’… but the phrase is seen as irritating and cliched.
As per my last email – considered passive aggressive. You might as well write ‘I’ve already told you this…!’
Please advise – this is also seen as a passive aggressive ending to an email and doesn’t really need to be used at all. Usually it comes after a question anyway, so if you’re writing an email asking for information, advice, or ideas from a colleague, they’ll see your request in the email. They know they’re supposed to get back to you with answers, with or without “please advise”.
Thanks in advance - while we all like to be thanked, this can feel a little presumptuous. It’s okay if you know the person is going to do what you have asked and you genuinely want to express gratitude before they do it, but it can be seen as demanding and, according to Perkbox, annoying.
Hope you’re well – do you?! This can feel like small talk, which is fine to a point but something more personal would probably sound better, such as a comment about something you’ve previously discussed or even the weather if you must, but always think about who you’re emailing. If you don’t think you need this sort of opener, you can leave it out altogether. One of our Facebook followers, Corin Trafford told us “I hate it when people dig for small talk: I don’t think ‘full of gas, knackered and too busy for this’ would cut it!”
6. Using smiley faces :-)
A 2020 study from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel found that people responded negatively when a smiley face emoticon was used in a professional email. The study took answers from 549 participants from 29 different countries. Participants read professional emails, with and without smiley faces in them, and were asked for their perception of the email senders. Participants generally felt that those who used smiling emoticons were not any friendlier and even seemed less professional than those that didn’t use emoticons.
SKL Facebook follower Corin confessed “I use smiley face emojis in most emails: it’s probably annoying and unprofessional but I can’t stop!”
7. Getting the recipient’s name wrong
This one came up a few times in our followers’ comments. There’s no real excuse for this one, especially if their name is in their email address!
Dawn Sheppard and Corin Trafford agreed with this point, with Corin adding “People get called by their last name too if it’s a first name appropriate last name, like my previous colleagues surnames Martin & George”
SKL student Angela Ashby came from a different angle: “My pet hate is when people choose to abbreviate my name on e-mails without my permission. Despite signing my e-mail to them as Angela, they reply "Hi Angie". That honour is kept for friends, not someone who has just replied to an e-mail. If I later reply as Angie, or Ange-that is a hint that this is an acceptable way to greet me, but not before!”
8. Sending a long chain of emails for the person to read through with no context
There’s no getting away from it: this is annoying. Imagine you’ve been dealing with an issue, via email, with a colleague or customer but you’ve got as far as you can with it and you now need your manager’s help. Should you:
a) Call or see them in person to explain the situation, then send the email chain for them to read now they have some context
b) Write a short overview of what’s happened in an email, then forward the long email chain
c) Send the email chain with ”please see below” as your introductory email
Here, a or b are fine. Just never do c. It’s not fair and you’re much less likely to get the outcome you want from your manager if they have to read through numerous emails that they weren’t involved in to find the information they need.
9. Marking every email as urgent
There’s a button on Microsoft Outlook that lets you mark emails as high priority or low priority. You don’t have to use either, but some people mark all of their emails as high priority.
SKL friend Holly Gray mentioned this, “especially when it’s not very important at all”. Unfortunately marking everything as high priority quickly loses its effect because if everything is important then nothing is!
10. Using an inappropriate sign-off
As with the greeting, this is a hard one to get right. The Perkbox survey showed that sign-offs such as:
• Warm regards
• Yours faithfully/sincerely
were unpopular, but Regards on its own was also seen as impersonal, so it feels like there is no pleasing anyone! In one of my previous places of work, we were given email signatures that came with kind regards as standard. I used to remove the kind as this felt fake! On another project I worked on to do with wellbeing, the lead used to sign off every time with healthy regards, which just felt weird to receive.
If you do use yours sincerely or yours faithfully, remember:
Yours sincerely: used when you have the person’s name; for example if you’re writing ‘Dear Amanda’.
Yours faithfully: used when you don’t have the person’s name; for example if you’re writing ‘Dear Madam’. As we said earlier, this is much less likely nowadays, where it is far easier to find out who it is we need to contact.
Poor spelling and grammar have not made it into the Room 101 of emails…
One point that most people who commented or direct messaged to add as their biggest annoyance was poor spelling and grammar. We have chosen not to add this to the list and here’s why.
There are many reasons why an email might arrive with below-par spelling and grammar, for example:
• The person may have written it in a rush, under pressure or even at home on their settee in the evening because they are keen to achieve Inbox Zero before their next working day begins… or because they think you deserve a reply quickly.
• They might have sent it from their phone, which comes with a pesky autocorrect and you often don’t notice until it’s too late.
• It’s hard to proofread your own work because we read for meaning (reading backwards is a good tip for proofreading although that doesn’t take homophones or grammar into account).
• They might have dyslexia or a learning difficulty that makes getting it perfect every time very hard. Spellcheck is one thing but someone who is dyslexic won’t always know which word to change the red underline to as they just don’t know the correct spelling. What we really don’t want to do is discourage someone who doesn’t find it easy to communicate in writing from sending written communication at all because that doesn’t help anyone.
But one of the main reasons we didn’t want to include it in the list is because it feels hypocritical! I am a former spelling and grammar massive stickler: it genuinely used to be my biggest annoyance when reading emails, letters, notes, articles, assignments… anything... even text messages. But the more I’ve written, the more mistakes I’ve made in my writing. Yes I cringe when I notice a mistake in my writing once I’ve sent it out (there may well be mistakes in this blog, even though it will have been checked several times before posting) but I’d like to think any mistakes you spot won’t detract too much from the meaning. A passive aggressive or deliberately rude comment is far more offensive than an accidental spelling mistake or a misused semi-colon, in our view!
No matter how much you use the spellcheck and avoid emojis, if the person you’re emailing has received too many emails or they just hate their job, they may well be irritated by your email. You can’t help that: all you can do is make your email as polite, friendly yet to-the-point as possible!
If you or someone you know needs our Writing Emails For Business short course, you can find all of the details you need here.
Tagged as: Teacher training; distance learning; workshops; CP, Work; emails; training; emails for business
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