In Focus:  Global Email Etiquette

•  Use a meaningful subject line.

•  Only include those recipients in the To field who you
   expect to respond.

•  Use Reply to All only when you are certain everyone
   needs to see your reply.

•  Answer all questions, and pre-empt further ones.

•  Use a simple structure & layout, and type in
   complete sentences.

•  Do not use abbreviations and emoticons unless you
   can be certain all recipients are familiar with them.

•  Do not attach unnecessary files.

•  Read your draft email before sending it.

•  Respond promptly, or send a note stating by when
   to expect your response.

Email etiquette rules make sense. They help reduce misunder­standings and improve the overall communication. In addition, some of them are also useful for more casual forms of electronic business communication, like Instant Messaging or Twitter.

Everyone around the globe appreciates it if you follow rules such as those listed above. Once you’re looking to communicate across cultures, though, etiquette rules may become less clear-cut. As always when working across cultural borders, different expectations of relationships, respect, politeness, etc. must be accommodated. Expectations of proper email styles therefore vary across countries and cultures in expected format, degree of formality, conciseness, personal tone, etc. Keep in mind that the objective of your communication is not merely to be efficient, which in this context means short and to the point, but also to be effective: in order to strengthen relationships and nurture a spirit of collaboration, it needs to send messages of respect, consideration and commitment to the people with whom you are communicating.

So while the above list mostly focuses on efficiency, here are a few global email etiquette suggestions that could make you more effective, even though some of them may seem less intuitive:

•  Start your emails with a courteous greeting, anything from “Dear Ms. XX” to “Hi XX”. Don’t omit the greeting, use a name alone, or misspell a name, as all of these might be viewed as offensive by some recipients.

•  Consider diverse naming conventions. US-Americans and select others usually give their names in the order of first-last. Some in Europe and Latin America use last-first, as do many Asians. Chinese names are commonly given last-first if a person uses their Chinese name, first-last if they adopted an English first name. provides country-specific information about these conven­tions.

•  Use first names only if you and the recipient previously established this. Members of most cultures consider it inappropriate if you force them to move to first names, which they might otherwise do with close friends only.

•  Unless your recipients are US-Americans, who commonly prefer getting straight to the point, start with some "small talk." This is particularly helpful when communicating with members of strongly relationship-oriented cultures, among them most Latin Americans and Asians. For example, tell them how your weekend was and ask about theirs. Alternatively, close with a similar statement or maybe something like "Hope you'll have a great Easter break!" Doing so almost always helps in building stronger bonds and motivating others to collaborate with you.

•  Do not write in CAPITALS, which some take as the equivalent of yelling, or mark your text in bright colors, to which several cultures attribute special meanings.

•  Carefully consider which level of formality would be most appropriate. This can be hard, as individual familiarity, cultural preferences, hierarchical differences, and a number of other factors all impact what is considered "right." If in doubt: too much is better than too little.

•  Always end your emails with "Thank you," "Sincerely," "Best regards, " "Talk to you soon," "Cheers" - something that sounds friendly and positive.

•  Do not sign emails with your first name only, unless you are already on first-name basis with the person(s) you are sending them to.

BTW, err, by the way: almost all of these global email etiquette practices might actually improve your domestic email communi­cation, too. Give them a try!

This article is also available in PDF format  (requires Adobe Reader ).

Book Of The Month
The Japanese Mind


This book provides profound insights into the Japanese way of thinking, interacting, making decisions, and many other aspects anyone doing busi­ness with the country needs to understand.

(click title for full book review)


Web Site Of The Month


A great resource for inter­national business eti­quette, covering numerous countries and regions of the world.

(click title to visit this web site)


Quote Of The Month

Even a
sheet of paper
has two sides

(Japanese proverb)


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Global Business Practices:
Ten More Tips for Doing Business in Japan

  • Strong, trusting personal relationships are a precondition to doing business with the Japanese.
  • Changing players during a negotiation or other extensive business interaction will slow you down, as the relationship building process will need to start over.
  • Communication tends to be very indirect in this country. Watch carefully for subtle between-the-lines messages.
  • The levels of service expected from a vendor tend to be higher in Japan than anywhere else in the world. Consider this carefully before you reject a client request.
  • While most Japanese bosses are clearly 'in charge', decision making commonly involves many team members.
  • Be patient if your counterparts have side discussions in Japanese. These conversations help clarify misunderstandings and are vital to the decision process.
  • Without exception, control your emotions. Outbursts of temper cause loss of face and will damage the respect your counterparts have for you.
  • It is considered polite to apologize in Japan, even for seemingly small issues.
  • Always dress conservatively when doing business in the country.
  • Keep eye contact only infrequently. A Japanese might take it as a personal attack if you stare at them.

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