You don’t need an interoffice communications manual to get people to communicate better. Just lead by example, and come up with some simple pointers to improve things. Here are a few of the rules I set myself and which I hope people on my team start copying.
Don’t reply to everything
This sounds counterintuitive but you really don’t have to reply ‘Thanks’, ‘Got it’ or ‘Let me get back to you on that’ to every email. When I ask you a question feel free to not answer until you know the reply. If it is a simple FYI just consider yourself informed. When the email contains a question then sure, answer it as best as you can.
Don’t email everything (keep a list)
It is extremely easy to email every brain fart you produce to everybody on the team. Don’t abuse this power. Email with moderation. I now keep a list of names in my notes app and collect my questions under every name. The next time we speak on Skype or do a chat I might ask 10 questions at a time. I’ve collected these questions over the week, and can even send them all at once in one email.
Do an email-handshake first
before you start emailing people take a few minutes to talk about how they want to receive email. The answers might surprise you. Some people like emails long and detailed and with all the info in one message. Others prefer shorter and more emails with one email per subject. Stuff like that really matter. And of course, forward them this post first.
Shorter is better
Keep messages short and sweet. We understand you are a very talented writer, but if your email requires us to scroll we will file it in our tl;dr folder for later, ahem, analysis. Think of it this way: with every sentence you add there is an extra 5 percent chance we won’t read and reply right away. 20 sentences and you might as well never send it at all.
Is email the best medium for this question?
I love email and it really is my preferred medium of choice. But some subjects are better discussed over a call, a meeting or even in a text chat. Is your question extremely short? Maybe try a Skype chat, text message or face-to-face meeting then. I’d say that 50 percent of my emails would be better off in a Skype chat window.
Keep emotions out of it
Are you angry? Is there a good chance that the person who will receive this email will get angry? Then don’t send the email. If a message is going to provoke an emotional reaction or some lengthy discussion, it’s worth setting up a call or meeting instead.
Don’t email documents
It is very cool that you can attach documents to emails. And you can attach vCards, funny images and screenshots and you won’t hear me complain. But for documents like presentations, spreadsheets or really any other file that needs to be collaborated on, this really isn’t the right medium. If you work on something together give Google Drive a try. If you’re stuck with Office or iWorks use Dropbox to set up shared folders. Even screenshots are really better handled with Droplr or Skitch.
Only CC with a reason
When you CC, specifically mention what you are CCing people for. I often find myself going through a huge thread wondering why the hell I’m CCed and trying to find out what I’m supposed to reply to. It really should be a rule that if you CC someone, you are required to add a line of text for each person you CC explaining why. Something like this:
> Patrick: Just a FYI, no reply needed
> Sophie: Paragraph 2 (‘the form’) is for you. Please submit it.
> Matt: Can you answer question 1 and 3 (only reply to Sophie!)
BCC is a great gift
One of the best things I can read in an email is ‘I’m moving you to BCC now’. That means I’m considered informed, but no longer necessary for the, no doubt, lengthy email thread that is about to follow. It gives me about as much joy as when my teacher told me ‘take the rest of the day off’ when I was 10. I try to make a habit out of moving as many people to the BCC field as possible when I get an email with a lot of names in it.
Don’t email at all
A lot of people start their day in their Inbox. You might feel useful and productive cleaning your inbox and sending out a lot of emails, but that might not really be the case at all. You are creating work for others and it might be better to think about what you are working on first. Remember, 20 years ago email didn’t even exist, and people did business just fine.
Email is a great communication tool, but it’s often abused too. As with any tool though, with a little thought you can use it well and get the most out of it. What are your favorite tips and rules for more efficient emailing?
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