Professional Email Etiquette

Bad email etiquette was MAYBE excusable in the 90s.

Bad email etiquette was MAYBE excusable in the 90s.

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

Email subjects! AHH! I hate being constantly bombarded with irrelevant, unsearchable subject terms, or emails that veer off the thread and continue. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to search for emails again or prioritize when the subject has no useful search terms and is instead, something like “favor …” Bah! Also, reply-alls, while you’re at it lol.


Disordered Inbox


Official Etiquette:

Everyone agrees! Use a clear subject line that indicates the content of the message. And use reply all only when everyone needs to receive the response.

Our Take:

Victoria: Okay, so subject lines are super important now because email is so searchable, so they need to be something that you can search easily. Like instead of “Invoice Request” it should be something like “Smith Invoice Request”

Jaya: Right. Though I tend to be more lax about this when it comes to personal emails. If I’m sending a friend a funny link I’m not like “Tumblr Humor Harry Potter Video 2015”

Victoria: Oh yeah, this is definitely more of a business email thing.

Jaya: But with invoicing it’s especially good to use your name, since those can get lost so easily. Something descriptive, but also not putting your entire email in the subject.

Victoria: Oh yeah! As a freelancer, I’m sure you come up against this a lot.

I mean, I think it also depends on the importance of the email- is this something that people are going to have to go back and reference or is it a one off that’s going to be deleted as soon as it is read?

Though i guess for some people, it’s probably more useful to get in the habit of just using good subject lines rather than trying to figure out which emails are important.

Jaya: Definitely. It’s too much hassle to try to scale your email on how important it’ll be to the recipient

So if you do it for everything it’ll be much easier.

Victoria: Yep, and even for yourself a lot of the time! But yeah, I think ultimately you just need to avoid stuff like “favor” or “request” that is suuuuper vague. Just up it to “supply order favor” or “vacation request.”

Jaya: And when it comes to reply all, oh boy. Use bcc when you can, and use reply all sparingly

Victoria: Haha yeah, I mean it also depends on company culture. We actually use reply all a LOT, but its for good reasons. And I use BCC for some very specific things. But if you aren’t specifically told to use reply all or BCC on “these types of specific emails”

then definitely decide whether it needs a reply all or not.

Jaya: Right, if everyone’s input really is needed, use reply all. And only reply with your full, thoughtful response, not a bunch of one word answers.

Victoria: And even within that, i think if you are looping people into something, then they probably only need the major details like- this report went out to this client, and then take it out of reply all to hash out the finicky details.

Jaya: Also this probably goes without saying but triple check who you send things to because too often something meant for a specific person goes to reply all.

Victoria: Hahaha yesssss.

Anything else to add?

Jaya: In general, I think pay attention to crafting an email like it were a letter. A lot of people think that because it can be shot off so quickly and easily that you don’t have to pay attention to wording.

But I’ve had so many confusing email interactions because the other person insists on not using complete sentences.

Victoria: Omg me too.

Jaya: And it just makes it more of a hassle for everyone involved.

Victoria: Especially in a business context, its like, omg you need to be clear and maybe err on the side of being a bit formal.

Especially for emails that aren’t interoffice.

Jaya: Yes! Err on formal is good advice.

Victoria: Like, for the first email, I would always start out with a salutation, whether that is Dear… or Hi… and use your signature.

And then the following ones can devolve into just jumping into the body of the message.

Jaya: Yes, no need for salutations past that. Unless you’re emailing with the Queen.

Victoria: Hahaha, as you do.

Jaya: We’ve all done it.

Victoria: Natch


Sports Etiquette Sounds Like A Good Idea

The world of sports and sporting is something I’ve never really felt a part of, even though a decent part of my childhood was spent on various sports teams (soccer, volleyball and softball). I liked being athletic and active, but the word “athlete” always seemed to describe other people who held teamwork through physical strength in much higher regard. Just let me run around and throw things in peace.

(I also may have avoided becoming too entrenched in team athleticism because I am the worst competitor when it comes to board games and the like. My fiance refuses to play air hockey with me anymore because I am a BITCH about both winning and losing. Don’t I just sound darling?)

Anyway, the etiquette of sport was very real when interest in sport=good breeding. In Marion Harland’s Complete Etiquette (1914), she writes that participating in sports is the way for humans to express our primal natures in everyday civilized life, which is why it may be so easy for normally well-mannered people to flip the fuck out if they miss a tennis return. It is because of this that etiquette must be enforced, and really, the rules she lays out are not that complicated: play fair, don’t lose your temper, and remember that the “other fellow has as much right to a good time as you have.” She also writes “no sport in which people of breeding can participate demands loud talking, ill bred language or actions, or the abridgment of any of the small sweet courtesies of life.” And you want to be well bred, right? Like a dog? Yes.

Best search ever

Best search ever

Of course, there are many rules that seem hopelessly outdated. If a man and a woman are playing golf together, the man is not supposed to let himself get too far ahead of her and leave her alone on the field. When “automobiling,” always stop at a disabled car and see if you can be of assistance (on those days when you just drive around for fun because gas costs a nickel). Also, “Do not boast of the phenomenal runs you have made. You are not a record holder. And when you become one, the newspapers will gladly exploit the fact without any viva voce testimony from you.” God I love how catty etiquette experts can be.

Many of the other tips have to do with how to handle a female opponent if you’re a man, so let’s all appreciate that the current etiquette is most likely “just play the dang sport.”

The other part of sports etiquette has to do with sports and business, since many a business deal has been brokered on the tennis court, ringside at a boxing match, or on the golf…field? Business Skills for Dummies (they have good tips!) says that no matter the sport, be honest about your skill level: “Rank beginners and fakes aren’t appreciated. It’s better to decline than to embarrass yourself in a sport you don’t know how to play at least passably well.” However, they miss something here. Think about it: a high level executive makes all his business deals (you know, business deals. I don’t know business speak.) while playing tennis. You cannot play tennis, and say so when you’re invited by him to the court. It is far more likely that you will just not be invited to any more tennis meetings than this executive changing up his routine to accommodate you.

The problem with combining business with sports is that it automatically sets up a system where some people can’t participate. Just because someone doesn’t know how to play golf doesn’t mean they won’t be a good business partner, and limiting your business deals to a club of people with your same interests means you’re missing out on a lot.  Like, remember in Mad Men when they all kept doing business at a strip club and Peggy couldn’t really go, but she decided to “man up” and go anyway and it was super weird but it was her only option if she wanted to get ahead? Don’t make someone be a Peggy, just have your meetings in a damn conference room.

Don't make coworkers sit on your lap either???

Don’t make coworkers sit on your lap either???

But ok, back to sports. In general, I’m for a lot more etiquette in sports, and essentially remembering that it is only a game. This goes for pickup basketball games with friends, or Richie Incognito. Your skill level at a particular sport is not indicative of your character, and your joy should never come at the expense of someone else’s sorrow. That’s not to say you should never compete, just be mindful that after you’ve won or lost, you still have to return to everyday life.

Oh yeah and let women play the same way as men.

How To Deal With Americans

Europe According to Americans [Via]

Europe According to Americans [Via]

Uncommon Courtesy is based in America, and if you couldn’t tell already, most of our etiquette focus has been on the way the Western developed world does things. However, in our ongoing attempt to educate ourselves about the world, we decided to take a look at some “international” etiquette tips for dealing with Americans.

From Etiquette by Vijaya Kumar

American business people are considered very open and friendly. Foreigners however find this friendliness short-lived.

Business people from other cultures are put off by the abruptness of Americans, for whom time is money.

Americans, being friendly, tend to jump onto first-name terms very quickly, which is wrong.

From Passport USA: Your Pocket Guide to American Business, Culture & Etiquette by Dean W. Engel

Some American women have adopted the practice of using both their family name and the name of their husband’s family.

Greetings include saying “Hello” or “Hi,” often followed by “How are you?” This inquiry is purely rhetorical.

Beyond the handshake, American men may sometimes embrace briefly—usually with a good thump on the back. But they’ll shrink from the sorts of embraces common in Latin America or European-style kisses on the cheek. These have homosexual overtones in the U.S., and regardless of a heterosexual male’s attitude toward someone else’s  homosexuality, to be perceived as homosexual is widely considered an insult. [Ed note: UUUUUUUUUGH]

“No” means “no,” whether it’s shouted in the boardroom or whispered at an informal dinner. Reluctance to emphatically state a negative response and the tendency to resort to euphemism (“that would be difficult”)—common approaches in many Asian cultures—are sources of aggravation to Americans, who are more concerned with knowing the intent of others than having their feelings spared.

Americans will sometimes emphasize a strongly held commitment, belief or position by banging on a table or suddenly standing up.

There is no national consensus on what’s funny.

From The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink by Andrew F. Smith

Dining etiquette became pointless in the pervasive fast food culture, although it was still recommended as a way of projecting success and savoir faire. [Ed note: I wonder what percentage of Americans stopped buying fish knives?]

From Star-Spangled Manners: In Which Miss Manners Defends American Etiquette by Judith Martin

The curiosity of having compassionate people attack a system that mandates and codifies the consideration of others is doubly-odd when the etiquette bashers are American, whose national etiquette refuses to dignify anything resembling class distinctions.

Failing to respect the symbolic power of apparently casual customs is asking for it. Examples of socially dangerous behavior are: not mustering enthusiasm for the local food delicacy, violating your  high school’s sense of propriety about dress, wearing a baseball cap at a baseball game when the National Anthem is playing, and suggesting a disconnection between  a bride’s being handed from her father’s protection to her husband’s in cases where the union has already been blessed with children.

From YUCK! …That Guy Didn’t Wash His Hands!: The Complete Guide to the American Man’s Bathroom Experience, including The Original American Bathroom Thesaurus by Brian J. Baker

Americans have a tacit fascination with bodily functions, none of which garner more of our cultural obsession than the three main acts of expelling human waste: Farting, Peeing, and Pooping.

Farting in anywhere but the toilet cube is seen as a serious bodily miscalculation.

Why the heck would anyone want to bring their opened food or drink in the bathroom?

We hope this has been enlightening. International readers! What have you been taught about dealing with Americans?