Email Vortex and Other Things to Avoid
External communication is the road that connects people and allows us to build great programs and successfully finish grand projects. It is important to learn how external communication can make or break a team. Poor (or non-existent) communication can be the first step toward killing great results. Along with great communication is documenting agreed-upon procedures or roles and responsibilities.
One of the best tools to help my external communication is to document professional verbal conversations either with a memorandum or an email. I’ve been around long enough to know that any telephone or in-person conversations need to be captured in an email and shared with all those involved soon after the conversation. Email is great; not only as a documentary tool but also as a clarification tool. When I put my perspective of a conversation into an email, it gives the other person an opportunity to say things like, “Were we in the same room? That is exactly the opposite of what I said” or “Negative. My boss overruled me and we need to follow the rest of the sheep”.
So, email is my go-to platform. It’s not necessarily the best platform but it is something virtually everyone has access to. I have a love-hate relationship with my email accounts. I love that it is an easy tool to keep all my communications in one place but I can easily receive and send 80 emails a day. I have friends who spend half their day reading, writing, and tracking emails.
With so much traffic, there are definitely ways to get me to respond to your emails quicker.
Tell me what you need or what you need me to do.
I’m typically a savvy person but sometimes I need someone to tell me about the next action or step. At other times, I’m just pretending to know what is going on in this organization. Either way, I will totally respond to you super quick if you tell me what I need to do. Below is a great example:
Your account is so jacked up I couldn’t run the reports. Could you send the analysis and include out-year projections for the next three years? I need it by the end of the day on Friday.
Why is this good? Because you’ve told me what is wrong, what you need, and when you need the report. I will either call or email you if I have questions about the format or my target audience.
Below is a BAD example:
I was looking at your accounts. There is a meeting on Monday and I don’t know what I’m supposed to tell the working group. Can you help?
Holy crap! I have a feeling that this is a HUGE project with lots of work and your email will probably be answered at the end of the day right as I am closing Outlook so you have no opportunity to respond before I reach my car.
Tell me the bottom line first if this is a procedural or policy change.
Sometimes policies change. That is the nature of business and we must be ready for changing times. If you send me a policy change, let me know in the first four lines how this impacts me because I am pretty sure I will be comatose by the time I get to the end of the long, drawn-out explanation.
Here’s a great example:
BOTTOM LINE: Effective immediately, stop making the horrible herbal tea.
BACKGROUND: Nancy was violently ill the other day after smelling your herbal tea. She has been out sick for …
Why is this great? I know within seconds how this affects me. No more herbal tea in the office. Got it! I can read the background later especially if Nancy and I don’t get along very well.
Here is a POOR example:
Did you know that Nancy has been out sick for the past two days? Weird, huh? So, we were thinking that … (I can’t remember what the rest of the email said because I’ve already checked out. I’m busy making my tea.)
Respond to me.
Today, I spent 30 minutes following up on email requests that are anywhere from 10 – 60 days delinquent. I use the term delinquent because I have asked for something (i.e., contract action, etc.) from someone but I’ve not received any response. It is like I’m throwing baseballs into a vortex. I would totally respect an email that says, “Yeah. I got your request but I don’t have time to help you”. At least I know where I stand.
Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ or ‘later’ or ‘you’re high on crack, lady’. It is a total waste of my day to write, yet again, to ask for a status. And, since I know you have caller ID, it is a waste of time calling and leaving a voice mail. I’m also pretty sure you can see me and my coworker walking across the courtyard when we come to your office.
So, to recap some uncommon tips about email. Tell me what I am supposed to do and when I need to provide it to you. Tell me the bottom line to any policy changes within the first four lines because I have the attention span of a 4-year-old. Finally, respond to me so I know my request isn’t lost in a vortex. The best way to keep me out of your affairs is to send an email … even if you are doing it right as you close Outlook.