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  • Rick Ktorides

5 Costly Email Mistakes

In many ways - choosing to communicate via email is a much riskier proposition compared with 'in person' or 'over the phone' forms of communication.

Once you press 'SEND' - it's out there like a permanent and irrefutable record of your words that you no longer have any control over, can be misconstrued, have unintended consequences and be forwarded to countless others.

I've certainly sent a few emails over my own career that I've regretted and really shouldn't have in hindsight - that's for sure!

Here are my top 5 costly email mistakes to avoid in project management:

Mistake #1: Sending emails when deeply upset / frustrated

There has just been some sort of injustice on your project or perhaps a stakeholder appears to hold a bias against you as a project manager and you feel you need to respond in kind.

You're upset, have drafted up an email to give them a piece of your mind and you are about to hit the "send" button.

It's urging you on like a reflex you can't avoid - but it's also one of the biggest mistakes you can make. It can end up costing you your project as well as your job!!


  • Wait until the following morning when you are feeling a lot calmer, collected and not in an emotionally charged confrontational state before you draft that email and hit send (you will be super glad you waited !!)

  • Make sure your emails are objective and constructive in nature

  • Get someone else such as your project owner or another team member to review a highly contentious email before it goes out

Mistake #2: Trying to win arguments in group emails

You've just sent out an email to a large audience (say 20 project team members and stakeholders combined plus a few executives) and a stakeholder decides to argue one of your points by 'replying all'.

Before you realise it, you're engaged in email tennis with an audience arguing technicalities trying desperately to one up the other and have the final word.

The issue here is that even if you win, you will end up damaging the relationship you have with that stakeholder. These email exchanges can also quickly get very heated and emotionally driven.

No one likes to be proven wrong in front of a large audience.


  • Engage the person one on one such as over a phone call or in person to discuss the differences

  • Have a view that the stakeholder has good intentions, rather than a personal grudge or intentionally trying to cause issues for your project

  • Listen and truly understand points the stakeholder is making and be open to the fact that they may actually be right

  • Don't make it about winning an argument, guide the discussion to making it about what's best for the project given constraints or solving a particular problem

  • When you reach an agreement and if pertinent, you can email back what's been agreed. No matter who was correct, it's your project that benefits!

Mistake #3: Sending ineffective emails

How many times have you received a seemingly important email, but could not readily figure out what the key points were, what you needed to do and felt a little confused ?

How much time did you waste by trying to figure these things out ?

From a project manager's perspective, it really pays to master the craft of effective emailing when you look at the numbers.

If you're sending an average of say 10 emails per day to an average of 2 people per email that's:

  • 20 different opportunities you are creating for confusion and time wasting for your team on a daily basis

  • That's 100 times per week and 5,000 times per year

Don't make the mistake of being lazy with your emails by being vague, assuming that others will be able to figure out what's required or be able to guess what you mean.


  • Take the time to be crystal clear what your email is about and what you require from people straight in the opening sentence

  • Avoid jargon, abbreviations or anything else that could confuse readers. Use words and phrases that everyone can easily and readily understand

  • Use small paragraphs, bullet points and colours to highlight key items or draw attention to actions required and key points

Mistake #4: Incorrectly interpreting the tone behind an email

One of the biggest problems with email as a form of communication is that it lacks all those non-verbal cues that provide that so important tone to what you are expressing.

As an example, you may type something in an email that you feel is sincere, however without your body language, tone of voice, hand gestures and facial expressions - it can easily be misinterpreted as being condescending or even offensive.

The next time you receive an email where the tone appears negative and not what you expect especially if that email is the crux for a major decision - recognise that you may be misinterpreting the tone.

Don't be too quick to jump to conclusions.


  • Pick-up the phone and have a quick informal call with the sender to ensure that your interpretation of their email and its tone are what the sender is actually communicating

  • If direct enquiry with the sender is not really an option, ask for a second opinion from someone that is not as close to the details and ask how they interpret it.

Mistake #5: Not realising it's the wrong form of communication

With the growing number of people working remotely and in different time zones, it's both tempting and easy to start relying on email when it comes to aspects of your project that involve significant levels of negotiation, persuasion and conflict resolution.

The issue here is that email is the wrong form of communication for any project activity where:

  • The tone and comprehension of how and what you are communicating is critically important

  • Gauging the other person's initial reaction, body language, comfort level, tone of voice and how they respond in real time matters significantly

  • Conversational engagement is required to achieve a common understanding or an agreed position


  • Use interactive forms of communication at your disposal such as face to face if possible, via video conference or via phone call

  • Follow up by using email to summarise the agreed position and the outcomes so you have a formal record and future reference point

In closing...

Email when used effectively is an invaluable form of communication in project management.

It's quick, easy to use, referenceable, can be formal or informal, can convey large amounts of information to any number of recipients, can be responded to at the recipient's convenience etc.

Like any other form of communication, it does however have pitfalls - the trick is to make sure your emails work for you as an advantage, rather than against you as a disadvantage!


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