Get Ahead

The No. 1 mistake people make when writing work emails: ‘Most people don’t correct it until their 30s or 40s’

Skynesher | E+ | Getty Images

Digital communication can be challenging, particularly in the workplace.

A single incorrect word choice or a misplaced exclamation point could alter how your message is received and undermine your professionalism.

But the "biggest mistake" in workplace communication — and the hardest one to recover from — is sending emotional emails, says Brandon Smith, a therapist and career coach known as The Workplace Therapist.

"It's a really, really hard skill to master — most people don't correct it until their 30s or 40s — but you should never send an email when you're feeling extremely emotional," says Smith. "People treat emails, Slacks or other online communication like a casual conversation you're having in the hallway, and it's not."

Instead, as a rule of thumb, you should "email like it could one day be read aloud in court," he adds. 

Next time you get an email or online message that makes you feel enraged, anxious or even euphoric, do the following:

Write a draft, then wait 24 hours 

This approach satiates the immediate need to blow off emotional steam and express your emotions without hurting your reputation at work. 

"When you have a strong emotional reaction to something, those emotions will inevitably come through in whatever message you're typing," says Smith. "It's so much easier to inflame an issue than solve one over email."

When you do reply, re-read your draft as if you were the recipient: Is the message confusing? Are there any details that could be misinterpreted, or that sound emotional? 

If you're still not confident in your response, Smith recommends asking a co-worker to read it over, as a second opinion can help you identify areas of improvement.

Consider a different form of communication

If it's something that requires a more immediate response, ask the other person if you can continue the conversation offline. Sometimes, uncomfortable conversations are best had in person or over the phone, says Smith.

Research shows that phone calls are more effective at building emotional connection: One 2021 study from researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Chicago found that voice-based communication (such as phone calls) creates stronger bonds than text-based communication (such as email). 

Or, as Smith explains: "The conversation will be a lot more productive, because you'll feel less inclined to be nasty or brutally honest to the other person when you're face-to-face with them, or listening to their voice on the end of the line, than you would be over text." 

Want to earn more and land your dream job? Join the free CNBC Make It: Your Money virtual event on Oct. 17 at 1 p.m. ET to learn how to level up your interview and negotiating skills, build your ideal career, boost your income and grow your wealth. Register for free today.

Check out:

These are the 2 most annoying co-worker habits, new survey shows—here's how to handle them

Want to be smarter and more successful with your money, work & life? Sign up for our newsletter!

We lost a $40M ice cream business—how we're rebuilding
We lost a $40M ice cream business—how we're rebuilding