Of Resolutions and Such, Part 2 – How Not To Suck At Email

Email Sucks 5According to a 2010 study, a little short of 300 billion emails are sent daily. After deducting 90% of that figure as spam, this results in about 15 emails per day sent/received by about two billion actual users (and not computer generated ED pill salesman).

With the assumption that this is not the first post of this blog that you happened onto, you have already carefully considered the email you wish to send and have judged it necessary as opposed to a more personal touch. Here are some tips to consider as you craft your Wordsworth-worthy prose.

Start with limiting your work to a half a page at most.  The nine-paragraph epistle which buries critical direction, delegation, or information in the last two paragraphs is begging to not be read. Consider the information you are providing.  A general rule of thumb is that the longer the email, the less likely you are desirous of a response.  Once you pass the three paragraph mark, you are just talking at people and not to them.  For a leader, try to do your talking at people in person and not through an impersonal medium that practically screams “one-way”.  Also, if you are delivering negative information, or bad news, this is key dialogue that should be done in person.  If you need to deliver it to the team and time is of the essence, so be it.

The subject line will make or break your message and the potential for people to read it. Even your direct reports will be more or less likely to take a look, based on how well the subject line speaks to them. You may even consider using the words INFORMATION ONLY or ACTION REQUESTED in the subject line (perhaps in lower caEmail sucks 7ps!), in order to give people a heads up on what you are asking for here. Another similar method is the use of tags within the subject that are clues to what is happening.  Emails tend to be of a few similar veins – data dump, discussion/input, or action/resolution.  Quickly identifying what category you are sending goes a long way to creating clarity and getting viable feedback.

Editing your emails is critical.  My personal philosophy is that the larger the distribution list, the more likely I send it to a trusted confidante for editing purposes.  One thing all leaders should get used to is to avoid the temptation to edit your own stuff.  Bad juju, man! Judgmental tones sound even worse in email.  Using absolutes like always, never, everyone, and worse, do not generally review well in a business email and lead to flaming.

Email suck 8From a professional sense, “flaming”, while now a valid word according to dictionary.com, is not, repeat not, the way to establish your credentials as a respected member of your team.  Ironic sarcasm has its place in the world, but not in a leadership discussion. There is occasionally this issue that arises professionally that ignites strong passion or feelings in someone, maybe yourself, and that can’t be avoided.However, with the previously mentioned “Email Sucks” blog, emotion is something that emails do a poor job of conveying.  One tip I ran across was if your emotions stirred to some kind of electronic response, consider the person you are responding to as if they were sitting across the desk from you.

Lastly, the RE:RE:RE:RE:Fwd:Fwd is really, really annoying.  Worse is when you decide in the midst of this cascading Reply All nightmare, to change the subject. An email should be one topic and one only.  Replies should be limited to that topic.  If you suddenly think of some new issue, start a new one. Or, make a call.