10 Things I Wish Everyone Understood – Email Edition

  1. Reply All Is Best in Moderation

We’ve all seen that inbox number spike and looked with dread at a plethora with the same subject line. Is it an emergency? Something catastrophic? No, it’s the dreaded reply all avalanche; completely unnecessary and some might argue a flat out nuisance. Keep in mind that everyone on that email has to spend 30-45 seconds scanning your reply, is it something that they all need to read? No? Then send your CONGRATS/Have fun!/LOL/  J / OMG to the sender directly, they did ask for it.


  1. The Subject Line is Important

This is the only one on this list that I struggle with on occasion; proper use of the subject line.  Most e-mail clients highlight the subject line and more often than not that’s really all you have to go on to assess the importance of the contents of the email.  If your subject line is vague than the people receiving your message have no idea if they need to open it right away so if you want to make sure that your email is answered, put in the subject line the actual subject (what your email is about) and give me an indication of its importance.

Example: June Close Documents – Please Review by 5/28


  1. If the Body is a Sentence or Less Don’t Send it

Sending an email where the body contains nothing at all or something along the lines of ‘done’ comes across as aggressive or rude. As a former boss used to tell me, “If you can say in in one sentence you can expand it to three.” If that doesn’t work for you then take a minute and call or IM the recipient, face to face is always better.


  1. Forwarding != Context

Yes, I absolutely appreciate being kept in the loop on things but honestly I’m probably not going to take the time to read through a 40 email string that you just forwarded to me without any indication of what it is I’m supposed to do with this.


  1. WTF Does That Mean?

I find that more often than not a communication breakdown over an email is solidly due to the reciepient applying emotion or intention to a what the sender thought was a completely innocent block of text. So keep in mind that we don’t know what you mean, we don’t understand what your intentions and if you know anything about emotional intelligence you’d know that we’re more likely to be wrong when we try to sort it out on our own. Ensure that your email is in crafted to the level that I clearly understand where you’re coming from and what I’m supposed to do next.


  1. Basic Letter Writing Skills Make it All Better

Back in the olden days, when I was a kid, we all had to take composition classes where we learned how to craft different types of basic letters.  There are six parts to a basic business note; your greeting, an explanation on why you are writing, an elaboration of that explanation, an explanation of why the recipient should care and/or what they need to do, a brief rephrasing of your reason for writing, and a closing.  If you can incorporate at least four out of those six parts into it every e-mail you send, I can guarantee you you’ll be better understood and have better relationships at work.


  1. Meeting Invites?!

I have to chuckle every time someone sends me an e-mail asking to sit down sometime in the near future, then neglects to send me a meeting invite, and expects me to know where and when we’re meeting.  And I don’t have particularly full meeting schedule, so I can imagine what kind of hilarity this causes folks that spend most of their time in meetings.  Take the extra minute to create and send a meeting invitation making it clear to all parties, it will solve any confusion instantly.


  1. Tracking!

Nothing is less efficient than spending the first 10 minutes of the meeting waiting and wondering who’s going to show up. About two days before any meeting I’ll send out a note to everyone who has not responded to the invite asking them to accept, decline or assign a replacement.  How do I know these things?  Dark magic?!? Noooo, virtually every e-mail client has some way of tracking responses to your meeting invitations – look for it, understand it, live by it and don’t be afraid to cancel or reschedule a meeting if that one most important person can’t make it.


  1. Scheduling Assistant

This one is Outlook specific so if you’re cursed by not having Outlook available to you, first I feel bad for you son, second you can skip ahead to #10.  There is a delightful little button on your Outlook toolbar called Scheduling Assistant.  If you click on it, you can see everyone’s availability. I know, it IS awesome and can completely eliminate the possibility that the one important person that has to attend your meeting is not available during the time that you’ve chosen.  But I’m very busy and important you say?! So is everyone else, my friend.


1o. Eliminate the Urge to TBD

A TBD in the Location field on a meeting invitation is my first indication that this meeting is may be disorganized, should potentially be skipped or delegated to someone else.  Take the time to sort out where you want to have the meeting shortly after figuring out who needs to be there.  If you do have Outlook, in the previously mentioned Scheduling Assistant view, you can also add conference rooms to your attendee list and see their availability at the same time.


11. Bonus – Know when to schedule a meeting and who to invite!

Seems like a simple question, when do you really need to have a meeting? I’d argue that the only time you need to have a meeting is when you’re in need of consensus from a group of people, discuss an issue or a course of action, talk through pros and cons, and build an action plan.  Anything other than that is really just socializing and that alone isn’t a bad thing but should be keep it to a minimum.  If you do actually NEED to schedule a meeting, my general rule is to invite the responsible parties and give them the latitude to bring along individuals that they feel should contribute.


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