Advice for Awkward Work E-Mail Situations
Guidance I Wish I Had Years Ago
You’ve been hired at an office job—congratulations! Welcome to the world of stable (hopefully) hours and health benefits. There are all kinds of pitfalls to working in an office environment that you may find yourself unprepared for. For me, a more shy and introverted kind of person, I was unprepared for the world of awkward e-mail situations.
Even the most extroverted person may suddenly find themselves unsure of how to politely and professionally address colleagues. Over the years, I’ve come up against certain scenarios again and again that I wish someone had warned me about. Here are some common scenarios with polite and professional solutions to ease your e-mail anxieties.
Awkward E-Mail Scenario Number One
You’ve been handed an issue that involves reaching out to someone you’ve never e-mailed or spoken to before.
It’s inadvisable to channel Carly Rae Jepsen in this scenario, “Hey I’ve never met you, and this is crazy. Please read my e-mail and help me, maybe.” Here’s a better way to start that e-mail: “Hello [person’s name], My name is [your name] and I work in [name of department or team]. It was suggested that I speak with you.” After that, describe your issue and ask your question! Don’t forget to sign-off kindly—you did just ask them for help.
Awkward E-Mail Scenario Number Two
You’ve reached out to a colleague or made a request, and they haven’t responded in days. You need an answer.
This one may seem simple, but I’ve broken out in a bit of a sweat when this happens from time to time, especially if the person I’m potentially pestering is higher up in the corporate food chain than I am. Keep it simple, and keep it nice. Reply all to your last e-mail sent, and try out one of these:
- “Hello [name of person], I’m writing to follow-up on the status of [question/request] in my previous e-mail. Thank you!”
- “Hello [name of person], I’m writing to follow-up regarding my previous e-mail. Please let me know if you need any additional information. Thank you!”
Try to avoid simply replying to your thread with “please advise” and nothing else. Such an e-mail can be seen as very annoying, which may make someone less willing to respond in a timely manner.
Awkward E-Mail Scenario Number Three
Are exclamation points okay?
Maybe someone did you a favor, or they gave you important information on a project and you want to convey your thanks. For some reason, “Thank you” with a period seems so terse. Observe: Thank you. In more relaxed environments, “Thank you!” conveys enthusiasm and gratitude. However, either you’re in a more formal environment, or you’re new to the office and haven’t gotten a good sense of the mood of it all. By default, until you know for sure whether or not an exclamation point would be well-received, try conveying your thanks in these ways:
- “I very much appreciate your help.”
- “Your assistance is very much appreciated.”
- “The information you provided is very helpful, thank you.”
Sure, maybe you’re not a fan of using “very” in most cases, but it conveys importance without having to rely on problematic punctuation.
If you’re wondering whether or not to use an exclamation point, and it’s not a situation where you’re conveying gratitude, consider what you’re trying to convey. If it is not a positive situation, using an exclamation point could make you come off more aggressive or combative, which is not advisable in most cases. If you’re trying to convey excitement or instill a sense of urgency, it’s better to simply say so rather than using an exclamation point, italics, bolding, underlining, or other stylistic methods. Simply adding, “I would like to instill a sense of urgency,” is better than “This is very important!” Similarly, “This is exciting information to hear” is more professional than “Wow!”
While none of these tips are particularly groundbreaking, from my own experience, having these kinds of tips before starting a new job would have saved me from agonizing over my words for an embarrassing amount of time. Good luck, and enjoy your new office life.