From country to country, the etiquette that is appropriate for emails can vary widely. In certain countries, email correspondence is expected to be highly formal, much like a written business letter. Alternately, in other countries it is expected that emails contain more of a friendly conversation, as if you were catching up with a longtime friend. It can be difficult to know how to address business associates overseas, and the last thing anyone wants to do is offend a potential client or contact.
The first step to avoiding these pitfalls is to really know who it is you are addressing in an email. This does not mean that you have to have met them in person previously, or know all about their individual personal history. What it does mean is that you need to have an understanding of who they are culturally. Sending an email to someone in Germany is going to be very different than sending an email to someone in Greece, or China, or South Africa. It is your job to educate yourself of the proper customs of the area you are contacting prior to making the contact.
At the very least, this demonstrates the level of respect that you are willing and able to provide your business associate. If you are making the initial contact, it squarely falls on your shoulders to do the leg-work and address the receiver properly. The same would be the case in reverse if they were the one making first contact. Showing this cultural respect will undoubtedly endear you to the person you are corresponding with.
Even with an understating of basic cultural norms, questions can still exist. If for example, you are addressing an email to an associate in Germany, you already know that the email needs to be incredibly formal. This is not the time or place to send a business email that is chatty or full of unnecessary conversation. Yet, how do you address the recipient? Is Sir, or Mr., or Frau appropriate? When all else fails, ask. There is no harm in asking your recipient how they prefer to be addressed. In fact, doing this will again show the respect you have for their culture. There are some countries who take their titles very seriously, Germany happens to be one of them.
Certain countries, like the United States, who utilize email as much if not more than any other form of communication have become quite jaded in their correspondence. Emails from this country tend to be very short and to the point when related to business. Americans see this is being efficient or productive, yet these types of emails can and will be perceived as rude and thoughtless in many different countries. There always has to be a happy medium between being too direct in your correspondence, and not being direct enough. If you are concerned about your level of directness in an international email, start your correspondence with the business aspects you need to discuss and then end your email with more personal cultural touches.
When emailing internationally, you must stay mindful of time zone differences and the access to technology. While in your country it may be 8:00am and a computer can be found in every home, in the country you are emailing it may be 4:00am with only a few computers in the town. This will mean that your email will not be read as soon as you send it, and therefore their response may not come as quickly as you would like. You have to have patience when sending international emails. Also remember that there are many different email and internet servers, all of which will run at different speeds depending on factors like technology level and weather.
If after you have done your cultural research and asked questions, your emails still feel strained or uncomfortable, the best option is to elevate your level of communication. Use emails as a starting point for your business talks. Once you have opened the door, telephone or video chat conversations will be less awkward and can serve as a smoother form of communication.
The infographic from the team of Aussiessay will help you to see some features of email etiquette around the world.