Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

Lab Manager Academy: Digital Manners

E-mail etiquette to get the best results in your lab.

by Sue Hershkowitz-Coore
Register for free to listen to this article
Listen with Speechify

“It was best of times... it was the worst of times...” That Charles Dickens quote from long ago perfectly describes our ability to communicate virtually today. We can communicate quickly but not always well.

Content—your expertise—isn’t the issue, rather it’s the intent—the tone —that is the challenge because it is so often misunderstood. Research conducted at New York University indicates that we should expect that our messages will be misunderstood. Why? We don’t give others the benefit of the doubt when we read their emails, yet because we hear our voice in our own heads when we compose our emails we believe we are fully clear and that everyone understands what we intend. (It also has something to do with being a bit self-focused.)

Get training in Positive Communication and earn CEUs.One of over 25 IACET-accredited courses in the Academy.
Positive Communication Course

Attending to digital manners is smart business because it helps others give you the results you want. Not paying attention to the nuances of email etiquette is equal to going to the grocery store in boxers. (Stick with me on this!). You’re fully covered so you should be able to run in and get what you want, but what you’re doing causes a distraction and makes it more difficult for others to give you the best results.

Here are three common email etiquette mistakes:

1. Beginning your email by telling people they are wrong. Starting off your email with, “I don’t agree that it is a good idea to...” may be direct but it isn’t going to win friends or boost morale or productivity. At the very least, show respect for their thoughts and start with, “Thank you for your suggestions.” Remember, we get back what we give out.

2. Thinking that efficiency is more important than effectiveness. It may be quick and easy to send a blunt response, but brevity—not bluntness —is key. And don’t hide behind the “this is who I am and they’ll just need to accept me for what I am because I’m very busy and can’t be bothered with fluff ” game. They’re busy too and we’re not talking about fluff. We’re talking about common email courtesy. A few extra words to make your request or response more appealing may be the most selfless and selfish thing you can do. Help others want to give you the best result.

3. Using words that make the recipient feel stupid. Most words that end in ‘”-ly” are misinterpreted by email readers. Consider words like: Obviously (everyone else knows this), evidently (if it is, why do you need to repeat it?), basically (do you need to dumb it down for them?), honestly (what was everything else?) are annoying to read. Often recipients can’t even verbalize what about the email was so bothersome to them, yet they have a sense of being patronized or talked down to. (You may think this is hogwash but really, it isn’t about you.... it’s about your reader giving you the best results!)

Focus on helping the other person feel safe and smart doing what you want and you will not only convey your expertise more successfully and get best results, you’ll also enjoy greater productivity, less stress and a sweeter work day. It truly is the best of times, if you make it so.

Be sure to attend Sue Hershkowitz-Coore’s Lab Manager Academy webinar, “Digital Manners: e-Mail Etiquette to Get the Best Results in YOUR Lab,” on Wednesday, May 2nd, or afterwards at to watch the archived video.