#AskIvanka: Email Etiquette

Ivanka answers your questions—and a few of our own!—on everything email-related.

Ivanka is passionate about emails, probably because she receives hundreds of them, over the course of a week. She’s got specific rules for managing her inbox: keep notes short and sweet, take lengthy conversations offline and (almost always!) clear out all the messages before bed—so who better to weigh in on the do’s and don’ts of virtual communications? What's the kiss of death in an email? #AskIvanka

Q: Is my company reading what I write?

A: Probably not in the ordinary course of business, but they have the legal right to. If someone leaves under bad circumstances, then they probably will. I don’t write anything in an email that I wouldn’t be comfortable reading on the front page of the New York Times.

Q: How casual is too casual in a work email?

A: If you wouldn’t see someone in the hallway and say “kiss kiss!” then you probably shouldn’t put “xx” in an email. The same is true for emojis. While they’re fun to use in conversation with friends, it’s likely you don’t want to be sending the ‘dancing girl’ to your boss.

Q: I’m new to the team and low on the totem pole, but I’m often CC’d on emails with a wide distribution. Should I chime in on long threads to say thanks or offer my input?

A: Don’t respond with acknowledgements like, “okay!” and “thank you!” unless it’s essential that your boss knows you got the message. These days, it seems we’re all focused on email efficiency—probably in recognition of the fact that we’re all insanely addicted. The more you can decrease unimportant, irrelevant contributions, the better. That said, if you’re copied on an email and you have something of substance to contribute, then by all means.

Q: I get frequent emails from my boss, who writes at all hours of the day. Are there understood "working hours" on email, or should I always be available?

A: It depends on your boss and the culture at your company. If you’re in a place where you feel like a slave to your inbox, have an honest conversation with your manager. Ask her to articulate her expectations. Email hasn’t been around that long. As it’s increasingly becoming our primary method of communicating, it’s important that we set expectations around it. If your boss wants timely communications, unconditionally, then you’ll be well served to know that. If, like me, she simply sends emails at midnight because it’s the only time she has the bandwidth to respond to unanswered emails, then she isn’t expecting a response until the following day.

Q: What’s the golden rule for organizing my inbox?

A: Unsubscribe more than you subscribe.

Q: When my boss asks me to do something, do I write back right away? Wait until I’ve done it? Both?

A: If you’re the only person on an email with a specific request, you should respond. If your boss hasn’t given you a timeframe, tell her when you plan to complete the task—it shows you’re being proactive and will ensure you’re on the same page with the timing of the deliverable.

Q: When do I email and when should I pick up the phone?

A: Emailing is best for scheduling and logistics. It can be really helpful if you’re providing someone with information prior to a discussion so they have the ability to reflect on the content in advance. I like to get documents 48 hours ahead of time because I never know when I’ll have the opportunity to sit and read. Phone calls, ideally, should be used early in the relationship to establish a connection—and you should always speak, preferably in person, and if not, then over the phone, when it comes to sensitive topics and anything that relates to emotions or feelings. The same is true of negotiations. Negotiate in person. Doing it via email benefits the weaker party as it affords him extra time to contemplate his response.

Q: What’s the kiss of death in an email?

A: When I get a generic email where my name is in a different font and size than the following paragraphs. This happens more than you’d think—often for donation requests where someone is emailing their personal database and trying to personalize the message by adding my name and salutation of some sort. If a message has obviously been copied and pasted, it makes me want to delete it immediately.