Imagine you’re standing at a podium, and you have only five or six sentences to make your point in a debate. Once you’re done, people in the audience will all have a turn ripping apart (or supporting) everything you’ve just said. Sound fun? Welcome to group email threads.
Crafting a good email isn’t easy, and it’s an art that few people are able to perfect. Through the years at MakeUseOf, we’ve tried to help with various netiquette guidelines and email tips, but group emails introduce a situation that is very unique. In group emails, there are so many variables — personalities, sensitivities and politics — that it’s extremely easy to to get yourself in trouble.
In this article, you’ll find some hard-learned lessons about handling a conversation in group emails. These tips will help you enhance your message, soothe concerns and emotions, and overall create a much more positive group conversation.
Remember the Audience
This tip is listed first because it’s the most common mistake people make when responding to an email that includes a very long CC list of names. Make sure you understand who the recipients are. Conversations within a group email thread can turn to very sensitive topics like religion, race or politics, and if you don’t know much about the people on that long CC list, the odds are pretty good that you’ll probably end up insulting someone with your opinion.
The safest approach here is to avoid those hot-button topics completely when writing an email that’s going out to a large number of people. It doesn’t matter if the response you’re making is directed to only one person. Your comments will be viewed by many eyes, and if you’ve made some kind of short-sighted comment that could come across as a stereotype or bigoted, you could find yourself in a whole lot of hot water — especially if it’s a work environment.
If you can’t find the fortitude to avoid commenting on those topics, then at the very least search through that CC list and make sure you have a pretty good idea of the stance those people probably may take on the topic at hand. If you’re going to offer your opinion in a group email, at least try to make sure you aren’t likely to say something that will directly attack the religion, race, gender or sexual orientation of anyone on that CC list.
Don’t Single Anyone Out
Have you ever been singled out by a boss or a colleague in an email where a bunch of other people were CC-ed, where they pointed out something that you did wrong or otherwise berated you? If you have, then you know just how degrading and horrible that experience can feel. While it seems like a pretty horrible and stupid thing to do to someone, making that mistake is a lot easier than you might think.
This is particularly true for the leaders among you. There may be something one employee did wrong that you don’t want anyone else to do. The temptation to make an example out of that employee will be strong, but avoid it at all cost.
There is one caveat to this. You do want to single people out if you have something good to say about them. It can be a tremendous motivating force when a manager or coworker says something nice about someone in a group email. If you ever have the opportunity to single someone out in this way, by all means, do it.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “A great man is always willing to be little.”
The truth of that statement is reflected in the reality that there really aren’t many great men (or women) who can lay claim to the skill of humility. Of all human traits, it is absolutely one of the rarest and most difficult to practice. Everyone wants to be respected and viewed as knowledgeable. No one wants to be viewed as inferior to peers. This nearly always materializes in group email discussions in the form of boasting, bragging, showing off or otherwise pontificating in such a way as to reveal to everyone on the list just how much you know.
The irony is that while the intention is to elevate how everyone on the email list views you, it actually does the opposite. It makes you come across as immature, arrogant and downright egotistical. Jealousy and competition are two of the strongest human emotions — usually uncontrollable ones at that. The last thing you want to do is trigger those base human emotions in any members of that CC list.
Instead, exude greatness by elevating others — providing the same points and examples you wanted to, but celebrating accomplishments and the knowledge of others. People are not only more likely to agree with you in these cases, but they’ll also respect you more for acting so selflessly in front of so many people.
Avoid the Controversy
Whenever you’re part of a group conversation — whether it’s email or real life — there are inevitably debates or arguments that arise over heated topics. Usually, these topics involve things like politics or religion; things that are very personal and emotional for people. It’s tempting to join the fray. Don’t do it.
There are two main things that go wrong when you jump into the fray on sensitive topics like these. First, you can stereotype yourself by taking a stance on an issue. Whether you go pro-choice or pro-life on abortion, there are a whole collection of assumptions people watching the debate will make about you; most of which are probably false. Unfortunately, those stereotypes can affect how people treat you moving forward on issues completely unrelated to the debate.
The other problem, especially if you’re in a supervisor or managerial role, is that people will view your strong stance in the debate as trying to use your position or status in order to influence others — essentially misusing your power.
Never Make Definitive Comments
Here’s an easy way to be proven wrong: say something is true. There is an element of human psychology that seems to be very common, especially in group situations, where people feel a need to find some chink in the armor of any definitive claim. If you say rocks are always round, someone will go out in search of a square rock. If you say trees always grow in dirt, someone will present evidence of some obscure tree that grows in the swamp.
There is almost always an exception to every rule, so don’t lay down a rule that invites someone to find the exception. Avoid those definitively claims that have the words “always” or “never” in them because those are far too easy to disprove. All someone needs is a single example falsifying your claim, and you end up looking a bit silly in that group conversation thread.
So, what are your own observations about group email etiquette? What sorts of behaviors have you noticed other people do that make group conversations more difficult, or even painful? Share your own observations and insights in the comments section below and help other readers make the best out of group email conversations.
Image Credit: 3d People by CoraMax at Shutterstock, Businessman attacking colleague by Peter Bernik via Shutterstock, Young boy by Claudia Paulussen at Shutterstock, business people conflict problem by mast3r at Shutterstock, Low angle view by wavebreakmedia via Shutterstock