Updated: Sep 12, 2020
Forgive my use of the exclamation mark in the headline. But our cavalier approach to email communications has got to stop.
Before you hit send, think about this, we all receive on average 140 emails every day. That’s a lot. But it’s also nothing. I know people that receive 300 emails upward in a day and their inbox is perpetually at over 1000 emails.
Almost every email that these overburdened recipients receive is marked URGENT!!!! And we know it’s super-urgent because the sender uses a lot of exclamation marks.
If I had to look at that many emails daily, I’d be a mess. I have no idea how people that live in Nightmare On Email Street, cope. But we need to help them by not adding to the Overwhelm they’re drowning in right now.
If you can avoid making the following 5 email blunders, you will stand out as a savvy corporate communicator.
1. Always hitting Reply All
If you’re part of a group of people that receives an email asking for information, you don’t need to send your contribution to everyone. Just reply to the email sender. Simple as. Reply All is the top email blunder that sends unwanted recipients into a spiral of rage. They’re not interested in your reply to someone else. They’re not the sender, so stop clogging their inbox. I know some of you do it unintentionally. You’re very busy, and I get it, you don’t have time to stop and think for two seconds, “who needs to see this?” You just automatically hit Reply All. But I beg you, take the extra few seconds to do the right thing. If you do, you’ll help minimise email junk.
2. Putting People in the CC: Line
I admit, I’ve blundered with this one until someone said to me, “If I’m cc’d on an email, I assume it’s for my information only, which means I immediately file or delete it.” So I asked other people about what they do with emails they’re cc’d on? More than half said, “goes in the trash, Edith.” Wow, I didn’t realise that a lot of people cc’d on emails don’t bother reading them. They're not being rude to you or me, they’re overwhelmed by emails that need action, so it’s a process of eliminating what isn’t important or doesn’t require action. One way to do that is to file or delete stuff you’ve been cc’d on.
Do you know what I’ve started doing? I’ve mostly stopped using the cc line unless I know that someone likes to be cc’d because they’ve told me.
3. Not Immediately Getting to The Point
Your average email recipient is suffering from information overload and is time-poor. Their modus operandi is to rapidly scan emails to see if they’re worthy of attention. They’ll glance at the subject line and the opening sentence. If they can’t make out the gist of the request, your email is ignored. The subject line is the most important part of your email, as it will either grab or lose your reader's attention, which is why it should clearly and simply state your main theme. Your opening sentence is a continuation of your main idea. Be polite but succinct.
Email trails: If you’re sending a response to an email that was part of a trail and the topic changes or deviates by the time it gets to you, for goodness sake change the message in your subject line otherwise you can confuse your recipient. I’ve wasted precious time trying to figure out what the email was about when reading the text in the subject line and opening sentence, only to see they had nothing in common. The topic had moved on to something else. So change the subject line text and better yet, delete irrelevant mail trail before you forward the next email incarnation.
4. Not Understanding Your Audience
Generally, it’s best to keep email length short though there are times this isn’t possible or necessary. However, there is one audience that appreciates brevity. Most CEOs and senior leaders are time poor and are big picture people, so you need to be precise and concise with them. Sure, their executive assistants scan their emails. Assistants are paid to be savvy and think like the CEO, so the same rule applies.
Here’s a good way to write an email that get’s the attention of management or people overwhelmed by their inbox: Your subject line text must contain your main idea. Use the opening sentence to flesh out the main idea, and keep it to one sentence. Expand via 3 short bullet points that are indented. Finish with a brief call to action sentence.
5. Sending Emails Instead of Phoning or Meeting in Person
Have you recently sent five emails to someone about the same thing and they haven’t responded? Do you eventually pick up the phone to talk to them? Or do you sit there frustrated because they’re so rude and uncooperative?
There are workplace cultures that don’t invite phone conversations or face-to-face interactions. It's common if you work at a large multinational where you interact with many of your colleagues remotely because you’re all based in a different city and country. Unfortunately, this means you end up emailing everyone and talking to no one, even the people that work in your local office.
But if you keep in mind that people are overwhelmed by the inbox, it’s a good idea to figure out how to communicate with them other than email. I know of a couple of executives who refuse to communicate via email. How did I find out? Well, I’m pretty friendly, and I like to chat with people in person or on the phone via mobile or Skype, so that’s how I found out their communications preference. They are so overwhelmed by their inbox, that email as a communications tool is dead to them. Fair enough.
Even if someone does use email, it doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to send an email all of the time. Before writing your email, ask yourself, “What’s the quickest way to get this person to answer my query or take action?” Or, “How does this person like to communicate?”
I’m a fan of email, but it needs to be used wisely and thoughtfully. Like you, I’m under pressure to get people to respond to my queries or requests. Sometimes email works sometimes it doesn’t. While you might think you're super-productive firing off 20 emails, it might be more productive to slow down and think about the most efficient way to communicate with different people. You’ll realise you don’t need to send 20 emails because you’ll get a faster response if you call some of your recipients or speak with them in person.