Crying e-Wolf — A Lesson in Email Etiquette

I once worked with a guy who marked every e-mail that he sent as urgent.

Every. Single. Email. Every day.

In his defense, he didn’t send very many e-mails. Maybe 1 or 2 each day … He said that was the reason he marked them as urgent — he didn’t want his few e-mails to get lost among all the other e-mails being sent and received each day.

Problem was, because he was marking everything as urgent, people stopped taking his e-mails seriously and responded with ZERO sense of urgency. People were annoyed at him for marking things urgent that clearly were not.

He was the Boy who cried e-Wolf.

Most of us are inundated with e-mails every day. We can’t go more than a few hours without checking our messages before our inboxes become full to bulging with requests that need our response.

Organizing and prioritizing all those messages isn’t easy. When people mark things as urgent when they know they are not, it only adds to the frustration and confusion of it all.

So when should you mark something as urgent?

  • It is due┬áin 72 hours or less. If the deadline for the issue is within 3 days, mark it as urgent — and follow up with a phone call or text message letting the person know the e-mail is there.
  • It will immediately change the receiver’s actions. If the information in the e-mail is designed to make the person reading it conduct themselves and their business differently, mark it as urgent. For example, a change to a procedure or a time change for a upcoming or important meeting.

Other that that, the e-mail can probably be sent with normal or low urgency and followed up on accordingly.

What are some other e-mail etiquette faux pas’ and fails? How can we do better in managing e-mail communication?

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