By: Hillel Fuld (@hilzfuld)
Email, we can’t live with it, and as of me writing these words, we can’t live without it. Slack is working on us living without it, but for now, it is an integral part of our personal and professional lives. The thing with email is that it was invented to increase our productivity. What it has actually done is precisely the opposite. (A cool productivity hack. Enjoy!)
Now, I am not going to claim that if we follow these rules, all of a sudden, we will all love spending time in our inboxes, that is not going to happen. But email, like many things in our lives, has somewhat of a social contract to it, and when you send a mass email to 200 people all in the To field, you break that contract!
I fundamentally believe all companies should run a mandatory email workshop on how and how not to use this form of communication. I know I would have spared myself much pain and agony had everyone I know taken that workshop.
So much to say about email, so many tragic/hilarious stories to tell, it was not trivial to sum it all up in six main points. I did it though, because it is such an important topic that not enough people address. So here they are, six main topics to consider in your use of email, both personal and professional.
The underlying principle in this entire post is consideration of others. Be considerate of other peoples’ time! That topic reminds me of the Garyvee video below. Before you watch it though, answer this one question “How do you feel about phone calls?” Now watch.
I already wrote my thoughts on phone calls here.
I can literally not think of any scenario in which a 500 word email is justified. In fact, I would bet money that over 95% of my emails are 20 words or less. Remember, the person you are sending that email to, is likely reading it on a 4-6″ screen. 100 words is a whole lot of swiping. That is inconsiderate. Get to the point of the email and don’t force the recipient to waste their precious time reading an unnecessarily long email. Be clear, be concise, and if your point is too long for email, well, then maybe you need to learn how to communicate more effectively.
What I mean is, if you are trying to explain a complex topic, perhaps email is actually not the best medium. Maybe send a short summary by email, and ask to set up a call or a face to face meeting. Email is there to increase my productivity. That will not happen if we all send emails six miles long.
On that note, onto the next topic.
While keeping emails short is a must, so is being polite. Perhaps start your email with a nice word or a personal touch. This is even more important when your email is you asking for something. Writing an email as if the person receiving it sits around waiting for you to contact them is both obnoxious and ineffective in helping you achieve your goal.
I had this discussion with an amazing entrepreneur just yesterday. Instead of replying to an email intro with an investor with “I am free on Thursday at 2 pm, can we meet then?”, how about “I am happy to meet at your earliest convenience. Please let me know when works for you.”
The tone of your email is often more important than the actual words.
Ok, it is time. This topic is a big one. TLDR, don’t BCC. Unless you are sending out an email to many people who don’t want their emails public. That is literally the only instance when using BCC is ok. Sending someone an email and BCCing someone else so he sees it without the recipient knowing, that is dishonest and dangerous.
I have talked about this case many times before but I had something happen to me that convinced me that BCC is the devil. I emailed a tech exec to recommend someone for a job and I BCCd that someone. That someone hit Reply All to thank me. Awkward and potentially relationship-ruining event. It all worked out and we joke about it now, but it could have ended very differently.
If you want someone to see an email you are sending, send it, then forward it on. Do not BCC someone because that is quite literally asking someone to stand by the door and eaves drop on a private conversation.
Replying All in an email can be the most annoying thing on the planet and in other instances, NOT replying all can be equally annoying. That is where common sense and etiquette comes in. If someone breaks the contract mentioned above and writes a mass email with everyone in the To field, the only thing more annoying is the person who replies all to that email.
On the other hand, if someone emails you and three of your colleagues asking you a question, there is a reason they CCd your colleagues. Obviously they need to see the answer as well. Replying to that person and not CCing the rest of the people on your response? Super annoying.
The simple rule is: Do the other people on this email thread need to see your answer or not? If not, don’t reply all. If yes, then reply all so everyone is in sync!
Call to Action
This is an interesting debate. Where should you put the call to action in an email? In the beginning so I don’t have to read the whole email? If the request is relevant, I can say yes right away and if not, I can say no right away. Or at the end of the email, so the reader has the proper context and is left with a specific ask. Both are legitimate approaches, but what everyone agrees on, is that there should be a clear ask, call to action.
“When would be a good time to meet?”
“Call me to discuss”.
“Please edit this document asap.”
Be clear on what the purpose of the email is because, again, that person has a lot of other emails and tasks to attend to, be considerate of their time and state clearly what you want.
Know your Audience
This point is much greater than email but it applies to email the same way it applies to communication in general. Who are you speaking to? What are that person’s needs? Their schedule? Their communication preference. Always think of the needs of the recipient when communicating, not about your own needs!
Knowing who you are speaking to is very important on the negative side, aka, don’t send someone an email without confirming that your ask is actually relevant for them, but it is also very important on the positive side. Study a person before reaching out. Maybe use a personal reference from that individual’s location, maybe a cultural reference. Or perhaps, mention that person’s latest blog post or Instagram picture. Show the person that you are human, and that you actually care about them and their needs, and not only your own.
That aside, there is nothing more frustrating than getting an email that is 100% irrelevant to you and should never have been sent. It puts you in an awkward situation of having to reply that you can’t help with their request. Before communicating with anyone over email, or on Linkedin, FB, or any other medium, spend 30 seconds researching the person and their needs.
In conclusion, the thing with email is, just because you can, does not mean you should. Be considerate of other peoples’ time, understand who you are about to contact, be polite, transparent, clear, and concise, and everyone will end up gaining.
Thanks in advance. 🙂