Yes, it’s 2019. We ping. We snap. We tweet. We deliver knockout client presentations over video chat and then high-five each other on Slack with dancing emoticons, impressed with our 21st-century prowess.
But let’s face it: Email is still a necessary tool for communicating for work. And even though it barely qualifies as actual communication, it’s not going away anytime soon.
So, let’s stop regressing from our thoughtful, human selves the moment we go into our inboxes. Let’s not let everything we know about effective and civil communications slip out of our ever-toggling windows. As discussed in last month’s blog about qualifiers, your words are your messages to the world — and emails are no exception.
How To Do Email Better
Whether we like it or not, email is one of the ways we build professional relationships — particularly when workforce geography makes in-person conversations impossible. Despite its shortcomings, email is our on-the-record image to the people who rely on us at work.
Here are my top three tips for making your email efforts more productive, more civil, and less annoying for everyone involved.
Tip #3: Avoid the TL;DR trap — elaboration is for attachments or meetings. Long emails overwhelm readers from the start. Plus they take time that no one has anymore to actually process what you’re saying.
Keep your emails to one visual reading pane, usually three paragraphs max.
If you’ve got more to say, put it in an attachment.
Or — better yet — pick up the phone or walk down the hall. If you need a CYA paper trail, follow up with a list of what you discussed together, making it clear what the other person agreed to in your IRL conversation.
Tip #2: Make your formatting “directional.” Help your readers absorb your message quickly by providing them with visual guidance.
State the “ask” upfront, in the high-value real estate of your subject line: “Response requested” or “Due by COB.”
Use bulleted lists as often as possible, to aid skimmability and, when appropriate, break up your paragraphs with headers that summarize each step.
Bold or highlight the most important parts for your reader to notice (1-2 places max).
Include a due date for the reader’s response, as well as your default plan of action if you don’t hear back by then.
If your readers aren’t especially tech-savvy, include any key links in multiple formats (such as a button or embedded text) and never enter the URL directly into the document as plain text.
Tip #1: Always remember that a human being is on the other side of your email. Don’t leave room for interpretation or cause unnecessary stress by using poor email etiquette.
Respond to every legitimate email directed to you in a timely manner — yes, every single one — even if it’s only to say that you’ll reply later. (Not saying anything still says something, but the message is controlled by the other person, not you.)
Explain why you’re adding or removing people to CC or BCC to avoid rumors of exclusivity or paranoia.
Don’t use “text” speak in your emails — complete words and punctuation are required. (Yes, we still need to remind people about that.) Abbreviations like “Thx” signal to email recipients that they aren’t worthy of the extra two seconds it would take to type the full word.
Lastly, always give constructive feedback verbally, not by email. It may be awkward, but at least it’s not rude!