Something as basic as an email should be hard to mess up, but it happens… a lot. I often find myself having to reread an email several times in an attempt to decipher what the intended message is. Here are a few basic guidelines to improve your crappy communication.
Change The Subject
You write your subject line, Report For Tomorrow, and of course the recipient knows exactly what you are referring to. After all, you just had a long phone conversation about the meeting tomorrow and they asked you specifically to send over that report. But what happens when they need to dig up that email next month?
Imagine going into your medicine cabinet to look for Tylenol but every bottle says something like Medicine For Sickness. Now you have to open every bottle and examine the pills inside to figure out which is the right one. That would be a headache (pun intended). Your subject line will distinguish your email from the rest of what’s floating around in the recipient’s inbox, so be specific! As a general rule, your subject line should include what/who the email pertains to and the main point of its contents.
If you forward an email chain to someone on your team and your only guidance is “See Below”, you are not helping. You should be giving the recipient a breakdown of what is going on. Don’t turn them into a detective and make them hunt for clues, give them the context so they are fully informed and ready to jump in. Also:
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Reply vs Reply All
Just because an email was sent to a group does not mean your response necessarily has to be sent to all of them. If your message is only significant to the sender, just hit Reply. Obviously there are many situations when Reply All is appropriate, but take a nanosecond to consider whether or not everyone needs the information you’re providing. If someone no longer needs to be involved in a discussion, show mercy upon them and take them out of your next response. You heard me right! You can hit Reply All and still remove an email address from the “to” field.
Theory of Mind
Theory of mind refers to the ability of young children to understand that other people may have different information, perspectives, or beliefs. This skill is usually developed around four years of age, but many emails I have seen make me think this may be a gross over-estimation. You should almost always assume that the person on the other end of your message knows nothing about what you’re talking about. This is especially true when you’re sending a brand new message and there’s no prior conversation to draw context from. Don’t be afraid to over-explain!