A few weeks ago I posited that our sent boxes are more important than our inboxes. That still stands. But there is an email epidemic on our hands that needs to be addressed when it comes to those sent emails. Here are the 5 biggest sins in the email world after receiving feedback from a number of people in many different industries.
Problem: How many of you have received a forwarded email from someone with only “FYI” in the message directed to you, followed by a chain of 83 emails below that. For my information? Ok. Does that mean I’m supposed to reply to this? Is this information my responsibility now? Is this a task? Did you think I needed to know or that I might like to know? Solution: If forwarding something to someone, summarize the email or the reason it is being forwarded, e.g “Thought you might be interested in this since you were working on yadda yadda,” or “I just wanted to keep you up to speed on what the solution was for that project snag we had before. No need to act on this though. Read it at your leisure.” Something like this goes a long way for the person receiving the email. Always try to put yourself in the feet of the recipient. What information should they have before they scroll down?
The Question Hidden In The Reeds
Problem: It’s the “Where’s Waldo?” of emails. The message is written with no line breaks or paragraphs and with an important question embedded in the middle. To find it, you almost need an enigma machine. Solution: If you are going to ask a question in an email, and an important one:
- Can you please make it a bullet on its own line?
Your question is the actionable part of your email. All of the facts, stories and information you added to the email support the point of your email, which is to ask a question. Your question shouldn’t stay hidden in the thicket of the rest of the words, it should jump out at people, like this tiger does (Fast forward to halfway).
The Ambiguity Email
Problem: To: Jason, Sarah, Michael I just got word that we have to have the January report ready by Friday. Thanks. Hmmm. Is that the royal we? You can’t assume that the recipients’ skills will coagulate and mix together like 3 drops of Mercury placed into a bowl. When you send a directive-style email to 3 people by using the word “we”, you might as well throw a rock as far as you can, look at the three people and say, “We need to get that rock,” and then walk away. Solution: If you want people to do things in an email that is being sent to more than one person you must call people out by name. The email should look something like: Guys, I just got word that we have to have the January report ready by Friday.
- Jason, can you get the January forecast numbers in order?
- Sarah, make sure to include the photos as back up
- Michael, can you be sure all the “subcontractor” language is in there as well?
Let’s circle up this afternoon at 4 to review where we all stand. If anything is unclear, let me know. Thanks!
Changing Topics Without Changing Subjects
Problem: You go to search your emails for a particular topic only to find out that someone in the email chain completely derailed the path the group was traveling on without ever changing the subject line. For example, you find your great conversation about the company’s strategic partnerships buried under 15 emails that have the subject: “Where should we get pizza tonight?” Solution: As self-explanatory as a solution gets, but when creating a new thread/topic, create a new email. You will save sanity and time. This is particularly important when using web services like gmail which stash emails in the same thread under the subject of the thread. No one wants to find partnerships in their pizza, figuratively or literally.
The Telegraph-Like Email Chain
Problem: How often do you see an email chain of yours on a particular matter going back and forth with someone tens and tens of times when it should have only gone back and forth once? Don’t write someone an email as if the only manner you have to communicate with them is by sending dots and dashes on a telegraph. Solution: Here’s a good rule, if an email conversation on the exact same matter has gone back and forth more than twice, pick up the phone, find the answer and then send an email that says, “As per our conversation...” Too often we fall victim of writing short messages back and forth to each other when we know a 1-minute chat could solve it. Got any of your own sins you'd like to add?