Lack of email etiquette is still a problem

Sep 16, 2019

“As hard as it is to believe – because it has been used as a business tool for so long – people in the AEC business still don’t understand basic email etiquette.”

Email. As hard as it is to believe – because it has been used as a business tool for so long – people in the AEC business still don’t understand basic email etiquette. It is a great communication device, but more than that, using it properly is critical to client service and relationships inside and outside the firm. Because it is so important to individual success in the business world, I usually devote a half hour or so each semester to this topic for my entrepreneurship students.

Here are some “rules” I like to live by:

  1. When someone in your firm gets an inbound email inquiry regarding a problem, and that person responds and copies you in on the conversation so you can deal with the issue, do NOT cut that person out when you reply. This is one of my greatest frustrations as someone who often gets these inquiries. The person replying doesn’t include me in their response. When that happens, I don’t know if the inquirer has had their question or concern addressed. But once the email string gets down to logistics, or going back and forth about what time of the day you will meet someone for lunch, it IS okay to cut me out. I don’t need an extra 10 emails in my inbox about whether someone likes sushi or BBQ.
  2. Likewise, when someone refers a client to you for a new project, and you make a proposal to them, first send the draft proposal to the person who gave you the referral so they can review it and comment. Get their input! It was “their” client. Then copy them when you send the actual proposal so the client knows they were involved. Do not cut them out of the loop. It’s not only disrespectful, it’s just dumb because it reduces your chances of getting the job. This has happened to me more than once in my own businesses and, frankly, it pisses me off!
  3. Respond quickly. I could talk about this until I am blue in the face. The faster you respond, the better you will be thought of by those inside and outside of your firm. It’s that simple. It shows you care and that the other person is important. Long response delays make the other person think you are lazy or lackadaisical, don’t care about them, or that you can’t honestly answer their question. None of that is good. A quick response, even if just to say, “I will get back to you on Monday with this” (and be sure to then DO that) is all it takes.
  4. Use “reply to all” very judiciously! We all get WAY too many emails from inside and outside of the firm. The problem is compounded by overuse of the “reply to all” button. This may take a periodic reminder from you, the boss, to make sure “reply to all” isn’t abused. I have witnessed this firsthand in many companies in this business. Someone gets their P.E. license and it is announced to the company, and then 128 people “reply to all” with their congratulations. Why does this happen? Maybe those offenders are trying to show the boss(es) that they are good employees themselves? I don’t know. But I do know it wastes a lot of time.
  5. “Out of the office” replies. Some readers may disagree with me on this one so we will just have to agree to disagree. I think these, for the most part, connote a lack of service. Let’s face it, most of us are rarely, if ever, in a place where we can’t reply to someone who needs us to. Even when you travel a lot, you can usually get Wi-Fi on the plane. Why not just respond to the sender? Just think how it sounds to your successful client, a nine-figure net worth hotel developer, when you state in your “Out of the office” reply that you are on a two-week vacation and can’t be reached – when that client has never even taken a one week vacation where they fully disconnected. They don’t like it. This may be an extreme example but there are a lot more people who operate like this than you may imagine.

That’s my rant for this week. If you like these points you may want to share them with your staff. And if you have any comments or feedback for me, I can be reached at

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.