How to avoid annoying people via email

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Conveying emotion and intent via email is difficult so messages can be interpreted incorrectly, research shows. Photo: Getty

Most of us fire off emails without giving it a second thought, but you might want to think twice before sending your next one.

The average professional receives more than 100 emails a day and the number is growing. And let’s face it, many of the emails we get sent make us want to grind our teeth — whether it’s a passive aggressive ‘follow up’ email or one littered with emojis.

Research shows there is a whole host of phrases guaranteed to irritate office workers. Last year, the software company Adobe surveyed 1,000 workers online, asking what they thought were the most annoying email phrases people used on email.

At the top of the list was “not sure if you saw my last email” which 29% of people thought was the worst thing someone could send. 

READ MORE: How to spot microaggressions at work

Other annoying phrases included: Per my last email (13%), per our conversation (11%), any updates on this? (11%), sorry for the double email (10%), please advise (9%), as previously stated (9%), as discussed (6%), and re-attaching for convenience (6%).

According to the research, conveying emotion and intent via email is difficult so messages can be interpreted incorrectly. This can put projects at risk, particularly if emails are deemed as passive aggressive.

If you have ever received a curt response to what you thought was a benign email, you may be guilty of some of these mistakes. So here are some of the key dos and don’ts.

Take your time

One of the best things about email is that you don’t have to send a reply straight away. If you aren’t sure how to respond, taking a few minutes away from your desk can help you think more clearly.

We’re all hardwired to search for subtle meaning beyond the words and intent of our emails. Although many of us are pressed for time at work, taking an extra minute when writing an email allows us to scan through for anything that can be misinterpreted by the receiver. It also lets us double-check our spelling and grammar too.

Don’t make it needlessly complicated

Keeping emails simple and concise can reduce the chances of them being read incorrectly. A shorter, easy-to-read email is far less likely to irritate a reader too.

If there’s a lot of information to include, bullet points are often far easier to read than lengthy blocks of text. According to research by Boomerang, the sweet spot for email length is between 50-125 words, which yielded response rates above 50%. Response rates declined slowly from 50% for 125-word messages to about 44% for 500-word messages. For messages above 2500 words response rates fell to below 35%.

Under all circumstances avoid using sarcasm as it simply won’t translate via email. What you thought was a harmless response may well cause arguments and problems with your colleagues.

Try reading your email out loud

If you have to send a difficult email — for example, one containing negative feedback — try reading the message out loud before you hit send. It’s far easier to spot phrases that may upset or anger the receiver. It’s also worth considering having the conversation in person or by phone, rather than by email.

If you are really worried about the tone of your emails, IBM Watson’s Tone Analyzer and  Boomerang’s Respondable can help you decipher the hidden meaning in your own or someone else’s messages.

READ MORE: Does a blanket ban on out-of-hours emails actually help our wellbeing?

Don’t reply all

Anyone who has had to trawl through a long email chain will know that there are few things more annoying. Unless you really have to, try not to reply all to avoid cluttering people’s inboxes with unnecessary messages.

Remember to turn your out-of-office on

If someone emails you, they tend to expect a response within the next day or so. If you are away on holiday, an automatic “out-of-office” reply will let them know you won’t be responding and people won’t think they are being ignored.

It can help to list the name and contact information of someone else, should someone need an immediate response. Also include the date when you’re back at your desk, so they know when to expect a reply.

Send an acknowledgement email

It’s fine if you need a little longer to respond to an email, but sending the person a quick acknowledgement email will let them know their message has been read. Give the send a rough time frame for a full reply, if you can.