Sharing these tips for effective business email communication can help improve collaboration and productivity – and avoid difficult working relationships.

I received two pieces of great advice from a former mentor. First, always proof-read important emails (out-loud if possible) to avoid mistakes. I have caught many errors reading emails out-loud. Second, if you must send an email when you are a bit exercised always hold the email in draft form for 10 or 15 minutes after finishing…then re-read. Often, you will make key changes that will get your message across more effectively.

I remembered my mentor´s advice recently when I came across an article written several years ago about embarrassing business email blunders. My favorite concerned a company vice president who accidentally sent details of all his employees’ salaries on a company group email. Realizing his mistake, he set the fire alarm off to clear the office before deleting the e-mail from every inbox.

Best Practices Can Avoid Email Blunders

Perhaps proof-reading his email, or waiting ten minutes before sending it, might not have prevented his company losing several hours of lost productivity. We shall never know. However, after finding that story amusing, I browsed for similar email blunders and came across an email-related article written by the author of the excellent book “Leadership is Hell: How to Manage Well and Escape with Your Soul” – Rob Ashgar.

In his article, Ashgar does not dwell on the blunders, but provides advice on how to avoid them. Not all of his advice is related to business management, but I would like to share with you the best practices I found particularly relevant – the final one being a best practice I know many CFOs avoid at all costs. Hopefully some I know will read this article and realize the error of their ways. Hopefully.

Tips for Effective Business Email Communication

  • Keep it Short and to the Point

Business emails should convey vital information at the beginning of the email. Nobody (apparently) reads the last lines of an email. If you have to write a long email to get the point across, use short sentences and paragraphs to make the email easier to read.

  • Don´t Put Something in an Email You Don´t Want Forwarded

Sometimes you may write a comment in an email to a colleague that you would rather was not shared. The best way of ensuring it is not shared is not to write the comment at all. And, if you receive an email from a colleague with a thoughtless comment in it, don´t be the one to share it if you don´t have to.

  • Respect Multi-Party Conversations

Be thoughtful about your conduct in multi-party conversations. Using “Reply All” is not always appreciated by everyone in the conversation and, when introducing others to the conversation, use the BCC button to inform the initiator of the conversation which direction it is heading in.

  • HIPAA Compliance, other compliance issues

Be aware that some information can not be sent via email unless the email is secure.  For example, HIPAA-compliant email is used for healthcare records.

  • Even When You are Busy, Send an Acknowledgement

In many business environments, no reply means “no”. Make sure you don´t give the wrong impression by acknowledging an email you don´t have time to attend to immediately. It only takes a few seconds to write “get back to you later about that”.

  • Don´t Use Email to Avoid Tough Conversations

This is the big one. Your colleagues will not appreciate you initiating a tough conversation – or a conversation likely to deteriorate into a tough one – by email. Tough conversations are always better managed over the phone or face-to-face.

Email communications allow for assumptions to be made about motives or tones, and oftentimes the intended motive or tone can be lost in translation. Phone and face-to-face conversations give all parties the opportunity to convey what they want to say in a manner more likely to be translated accurately.

Finally, if you receive an email from a colleague who has avoided a tough verbal conversation, politely engage directly with the sender to give them an opportunity to clarify. A direct conversation can often diffuse follow-up email correspondence that can exacerbate tense situations.

If you share just one of these tips, please make sure it is the last one.