Oh electronic mail. How you’ve been used and abused. Loved and loathed. Your dings and notifications can instill panic, but also joy. Our ancestors used smoke signals, pigeons and the pony express, all while we can send an instant message. I wonder if people in the 1800’s had email and text messaging what their messages would look like compared to ours? I mean we communicate instantly, but are we saying anything?
We look at email as both an intrusion and necessary part of life in today’s society, but how can we use it to better serve us? How can we connect even more with those on the other side of our messages? What if we have to be very “real” in letting someone know that they are out of bounds? How can we do that sanely without it turning into a dramatic blackhole?
Well, in today’s post I can answer all of those questions from personal experience. My tips and tricks apply to both work and personal email, or monitored and unmonitored email addresses.
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it:
This is my holy grail rule for email. I never say anything in an email that I wouldn’t say to someone personally. If I wrote it, you can disseminate it to the masses if you want to, I won’t mind because I stand by it. This means that what I say has been edited for brevity, punctuation, grammar, context, impact, and comprehension. Now that last one, comprehension, isn’t really in our control. The reader’s comprehension is as personal as their perception and we can’t do anything about either. All we can control is the intent of our message.
Write for maximum impact:
If I have a challenge with the reader, either personal or professional; or if I can’t get something accomplished that has been assigned to me because they haven’t completed their responsibilities, I will say just that. In writing.
I don’t say things like “Well maybe I misunderstood the timeline”, or any other beating-around-the-bush-jargon. If someone dropped the ball on me, then I use those words and say so. I don’t do this to hurt any feelings, I do this because time is precious and when communication is simple, there is less for anyone to hide behind. I remove the chance of misunderstandings by removing mixed signals and saying things directly.
Always communicate like a professional adult:
Please don’t email “U”, for you and whatnot. Email is not text messaging. Also, put as much information into one email as possible with all of the pertinent questions that you need answers to so that the other person can respond back in one full email. To be a efficient person/professional, strive to gain all the information that you need in the least amount of communications.
At some point however, it is better use of time to just pick up the phone and talk it out. I know…scary. But instead of constantly getting distracted to answer a bunch of emails bouncing in, you can accomplish in 10 minutes what would otherwise take all day.
“Be polite until it’s time to not be polite”:
There is such a way of writing where you can tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they’ll look forward to going. That’s the definition of tact, and that’s not me.
Aside from calling anyone any mean names, it is allowable, and also professional, to tell someone that they are intentionally scapegoating another, that they are intentionally being deceptive, or that they are intentionally or subconsciously sabotaging the collective efforts. See what I did there? “Intentionally scapegoating” = blaming someone else for their shortcoming, “deceptive” = a liar. “Sabotaging the collective efforts” = hater who would rather burn it all down than allow people to work together harmoniously.
See? You can say whatever you want to in an email, just see rule #1. You are not doing anyone any favors by not calling out bad, unprofessional, or even dangerous behavior. You’re going to talk about it anyway with anyone who will listen and all that’s going to do is begin, add, or fuel drama. Instead, call it out to the person directly and if so applies, “cc” everyone involved so that all parties see it in real time and no one can start a “he said/she said” scenario. You will be amazed at how quiet everyone becomes after that.
“The pen is mightier than the sword”
I’m not going to say that some of the communications that I’ve sent haven’t stung the recipient, I’m going to say that I wrote it that way on purpose. If I really love you, (or if I really want to articulate that you are no longer welcome in my life), I’ll hand write a letter to you, but regardless of the communication, I’ll stand by what I say. This is why I’m so surprised when other people are shocked when their emails leak and they get negative attention. Trust me, other people than whom you intend to see your email will see what you’ve written. You can bet on it. As such, always pretend that your Grand mom, priest, God himself, will see it. This will keep you from writing anything that you shouldn’t.
The shorter, the better:
Unless you are writing a love letter via email that describes in detail the amount of your undying love for the other, keep emails short. 1 paragraph is the best. 4 is even ok if you are not just repeating what you’ve already said in the first 3 paragraphs. 5-10 paragraphs, pick up the phone.
When you are around as many high performance professionals as I am, you notice one thing; they never have their phones in their hands. When you are talking to them, they make eye contact and you can have a discussion or do business in under an hour efficiently and completely. If their phone does ring, they see who is calling and either say “excuse me, I’ve been waiting for this call” and step away, or they will mute the sound and return the call later.
I have observed – (trying) not to judge – but observed that the people who get the least done and who express just how unsatisfied with life they are, are always looking at their phone. They can be spacy to interact with, they cut you off to talk about things irrelevant to the last topic, and they text or answer notifications all while they are sitting across from you. I have a friend – that I love – but if they look at that phone one more time while we are talking, I’m going to smack it out of their hand. People’s time is the one thing that they can never get back, don’t squander people’s attention.
Organization & Time Management:
I have separate folders for things that I need to keep, and I will set my “rules” for incoming messages to go into “Action”, “Daily Reading”, “Newsletters” folders. I go to the Action folder first and know that I can go into Daily Reading later on at home after dinner.
Personally, I check my emails 3 times per day and I keep my personal email shut down in between those times. My work email stays up, but I only check that one 3 times a day as well. The exception to this is when I’m actively working with a party and will need to respond within the business day. Otherwise, I respond within 1 day. If anyone urgently needs me, then can call me.
I use Unroll.me to get all of my regular emails sent to me once per day in one email. Anything that I don’t dedicate to that list will just land in my inbox or one of my folders if I’ve designated it to do so. This means that I get to “inbox zero” daily in both my work and my personal email. To me digital clutter is still clutter so I want to zero out my folders daily.
Email is just yet another tool that we use to communicate with each other. It’s free and fast, but it’s also easy to hide behind. We can no longer use electronic communications of any means to substitute a genuine person to person connection. My friends and business colleagues and I use email to stay in touch, but then we also use it to schedule a coffee or a lunch. We may never talk on the phone, but thanks to our outlook calendar invites, we use our email to send and accept invites to sit face to face. As such, we’ve come up with good ideas and investment opportunities. We’ve learned about one another and we’ve become addicted to the actual human connection that our emails have helped us build.
For those times that I’ve had to send challenging emails proving that I can’t be fooled, they’ve lead to clarity for all parties. We’ve either come together to fix and repair, or we’ve gone our own ways with our stories being complete for now. No matter what, communication is so easily available and as we evolve, we should be considering how we use it. My hope for whomever reads this today is that they send one email to one person that they want to reconnect with, or get to know better.
Emailing you love,