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11 Things About Email You Might Not Know That Are Making You Awkward

11 Things About Email You Might Not Know That Are Making You Awkward
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Are you aware of your email manners? Are you sure you’re not doing anything awkward when sending emails? Wait But Why has the answer here.

Email is one of those things that’s just a part of your life, period. Most of us know someone who has closed their Facebook account or refused to join in the first place in a little foot-stomping stand by their ego, and you might even know someone who is thrilled with themselves for not owning a smartphone.

But within the adult internet-using world, no one is allowed to not have email.

Not having email today would be the equivalent of not having a phone number—you’d have to bereally doing your own thing to go there.

And so here we all are, typing things into compose windows, battling down our inboxes, and it’s going pretty well—but like any world of social interaction, email has its difficulties.

Let’s discuss 11 particularly awkward things about our email lives—

1) Exchanges that have an unequal power dynamic.

unequal

    If someone you’re emailing with:

    • is making typos and you’re not
    • is skipping punctuation and you’re not
    • is skipping capitals and you’re not
    • is taking a long time to reply and you’re not
    • is responding to your long, well-written emails with much shorter responses

    Then they hate you.

    Unequal email power dynamics can happen for many reasons—a professional ladder discrepancy, an age discrepancy, a “customer’s always right” situation, a thing where many people are all emailing one person—but usually, it’s that the person writing the high-quality email wants/needs something from the person writing the low-quality email. Simple as that.

    2) Emailing with un-tech savvy Baby Boomers.

    Not all Baby Boomers—you know who I’m talking about.

    They’re the last remaining people with AOL email addresses. They scan a hard copy of an article and email it as an attachment instead of emailing a link to the article. They write the word e-mail with a hyphen in it. And they don’t know that “replying to all” is a thing that can happen in the world:

    reply to all 1 reply to all 2 reply to all 3 reply to all 4 reply to all 5 reply to all 6

      Sometimes, you’ll come across the especially un-tech savvy Baby Boomer who inexplicably writes their emails in all caps.

      all caps

        3) Emailing with anyone born before 1930.

        OLD

          To my grandmother, who tells me that her “machine is broken” when the browser window has accidentally been minimized, words like “forward” and “attachment” and “link” don’t have simple, concrete definitions—they’re just vague, complex ideas that she’s heard of but doesn’t understand.

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          She feels about email the way I feel about this sentence:

          Central banks in developing countries are tightening policy and intervening in currency markets in response to concerns about the potential effect of currency depreciation on inflation, though gross issuance of nonfinancial corporate bonds and commercial paper have slowed and interest volatility has substantially diminished, possibly suggesting that reaching-for-yield behavior might be increasing again.

          If you weren’t far too lazy to write a letter, it would be a good idea to stick to hand-written correspondence with people born in the 1920s, especially since there’s the side benefit that a letter from someone born in the 1920s will be a cool thing to own in 50 years.

          4) The group email chain Late Responder.

          late responder 1 late responder 2 late responder 3 late responder 4

            5) Figuring out how to address a minor friend in an email greeting.

            To make things easy, we at some point all agreed upon certain rules and regulations for how to address various categories of people that we email.

            Greeting

              Notice the problem?

              “Hi ____” is friendly in a distant, neutral, professional way for everyone you don’t know well. When your relationship with someone takes a step forward, it graduates to the warmer, more casual Hey Zone. And with really close people, you can just skip the greeting altogether—no one starts an email with “Hey Mom”.

              But how about that green zone category of people who are more than acquaintances—so greeting them with “Hey” would seem too formal and distant—but you don’t talk to them enough to just out of the blue email them and start talking without a greeting? How the hell are you supposed to start an email to that friend from college you talk to every two years or that old work colleague you became friends with and then fell mostly out of touch with?

              It’s not easy. And unlike all the other greetings, this one requires creativity. Some possibilities:

              – Hey John! — The exclamation point says, “This isn’t a normal Hey greeting—I’m smiling and extra excited because we’re pretty close, and our relationship is a positive thing in my life.”

              – Johnny! — A typical response greeting to the “Hey John!” email. It’s acknowledging that you’re on nickname terms, and also joining the celebration of your friendship with the exclamation point.

              – Hey man — This is something guy acquaintances or minor friends do to deal with being in the green zone. It’s the greeting version of a friendly back slap.

              – Sammmm — A girl tool to deal with the green zone.

              – Heyyy — The extra Y’s say, “Just swinging by to say something, and we’re friends so sometimes we just swing by.

              greeting2

                5b) Figuring out how to sign-off in an email to a minor friend.

                Similar situation. For the distant people, we have all sorts of autofills—Best, Regards, Talk soon, Take care, Thanks, etc.—and the really close people need no sign-off at all. But for minor friends, we’ve got another whole song and dance on our hands.

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                I’ll sometimes finish a minor friend email with something like, “Thanks,” and then look at it and think, “Ugh it’s too formal.” I then sigh, put the cursor at the end of the word, and begrudgingly type in two more S’s.

                It’s also worth noting that some people have decided that xoxo is an appropriate sign off because they’re just that adorable, and others just decided to start signing off with only the first letter of their name, because apparently we’re now dating. To me, both sign-offs make me think the person looks like this when they’re typing it:

                xoxo

                  6) Saying Robot Phrases, which reminds you that you’re not actually that unique a person.

                  A Robot Phrase is a commonly used email phrase that you end up using just because everyone else is using it and you’re not that creative a person.

                  robot phrases

                    These cookie-cutter Robot Phrases remind me of my voicemail recording being “Hi, you’ve reached Tim. Please leave a message.” The next thing that comes on is an actual robot that says “At the tone, please record your message yada yada,” and she and I are doing an equal job of expressing our individuality—but unfortunately, the only other option is to be an unnecessary weirdo by doing something surprising.

                    Email Robot Phrases are not quite as socially required as Voicemail Robot Recordings, but most of us are too lazy to deal with thinking up alternatives. Every single time I type one, though, I feel a slight twinge of self-loathing for being such a societal cog.

                    7) Mastering the exclamation point chess match.

                    With in-person interaction, we have a million subtle ways to express tone. Even on the phone, without the use of facial expressions or mannerisms, tone of voice gets the job done sufficiently.

                    But over email, we’re stuck with a crude set of symbols as our tools to express nuance, making punctuation a critical part of the email world. A few guidelines:

                    Some people don’t use exclamation points, and with those people, it’s safe to stick with periods.

                    periods

                      Others use them constantly, and with those people you’re a huge dick if you don’t, so you’re forced to join the party.

                      exclamations

                        This is important because to a rampant exclamation point user, the difference between a period and an exclamation point looks like this.

                        exclamation period

                          There’s also the rare but disastrous exclamation point / question mark mixup typo.

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                          exclamation question

                            I can go either way with exclamation points and tend to just follow the other person’s lead, but I find that this is a pretty strong correlation:

                            exclamation graph

                              Ellipses are a whole other thing. Some people use them to be mysterious or threatening, and of course, they can be massively slutty.

                              ellipses

                                8) The epic correspondence that neither involved party wants to be a part of.

                                epic correspondence

                                  This is a very odd phenomenon unique to email. It happens when two not-that-good friends find themselves stuck in the mutually-obligated chore of writing long descriptions of their lives to each other every few months. Both parties dread having to answer all the last email’s questions and write a lengthy life description, and each is pretty bored by the process of reading the other’s.

                                  This cycle either goes on until one of the people dies, or sometimes, someone finally gathers the guts to just not respond to the other’s email and then both parties can sigh a deep breath of relief.

                                  9) Trying to shove the concept of laughter into the email medium.

                                  haha

                                    Laughter is a delightful part of vocal correspondence, so we’ve decided we need to figure out a way to express the same thing over email—but it’s awkward.

                                    Absurd people who say lol aside, here’s what we’re dealing with:

                                    haha — I found this either mildly funny or not funny at all

                                    hahaha — I found this a little funny

                                    hahahaha — I found this reasonably funny

                                    HA or HAHA or HAHAHAHA — I found this very funny

                                    hahah or hahahah — I’m a very subpar human

                                    At least in my world, I find that when something is actually funny, it’ll result in capital letters.

                                    And in almost all of these cases, the recipient pictures the sender actually laughing as they type, when in fact they probably look like the guy in the picture above.

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                                    10) The fact that hurtful things are happening to you and you’re not thinking about it.

                                    hurtful

                                      Being humored by fake haha’s is just the beginning.

                                      You know how people sometimes BCC someone on an email they’re writing to secretly loop them in? You know what you don’t consider? The times when you’ve received an email from someone and there’s a BCC happening unbeknownst to you—when you’re the chump being spied on. Kind of upsetting right?

                                      How about the fact that you’re part of a number of group email chains, some one-time things and some that are recurring—and you kind of just assume that those are the only group chains happening. When in fact, there are a number of group chains between various friends or family members of yours that you are not included on, whose existence you never really consider.

                                      Worse, think about a time you’ve forwarded an email you received to someone else for mocking purposes. Kind of mean, but you’ve also kind of done it right? How bad is it that at some point, you’ve been the subject of the secret mocking forward?

                                      Luckily, we tend to avoid assuming these things are happening. But they’re happening.

                                      11) Email disasters.

                                      disaster
                                        disaster 2

                                          The email disaster is a special kind of disaster. It can be mortifying, hurtful, or even friendship-damaging.

                                          Examples include:

                                          – Emailing Person X to say something bad about Person Y and accidentally emailing it to Person Y instead.

                                          – Replying just to Person X on a group chain to say something private and accidentally replying to all.

                                          – Forwarding an email to someone and forgetting that below the email is a whole correspondence chain that has something sensitive in it, maybe even about the person you just forwarded it to.

                                          – Sending an attachment to someone and accidentally attaching the wrong horrifying thing.

                                          Other people’s email disaster stories are a great source of schadenfreude—so if you have a good one, please share in the comments.

                                          If you liked this article, subscribe by email to have Wait But Why’s once-a-week posts sent to you by email. Never any spam.
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                                          More by this author

                                          Anna Chui

                                          Anna is the Chief Editor and Content Strategist of Lifehack. She's also a communication expert who shares tips on motivation and relationships.

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                                          1 7 Effective Ways To Motivate Employees in 2021 2 How a Project Management Mindset Boosts Your Productivity 3 5 Values of an Effective Leader 4 How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them 5 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

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                                          Last Updated on July 21, 2021

                                          The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

                                          The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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                                          No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

                                          Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

                                          Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

                                          A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

                                          Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

                                          In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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                                          From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

                                          A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

                                          For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

                                          This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

                                          The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

                                          That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

                                          Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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                                          The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

                                          Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

                                          But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

                                          The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

                                          The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

                                          A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

                                          For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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                                          But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

                                          If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

                                          For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

                                          These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

                                          For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

                                          How to Make a Reminder Works for You

                                          Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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                                          Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

                                          Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

                                          My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

                                          Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

                                          I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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                                          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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                                          Reference

                                          [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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