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5 Reasons Your Emails Don’t Work

5 Reasons Your Emails Don’t Work

You’re way past email blunder basics: replying to all with snarky remarks, sending the note intended for you wife to your boss, emailing in anger. Your emails aren’t obviously stupid, so why aren’t they working?

5 Advanced Email Blunders

  1. The Barrage Effect – I was preparing the senior leader for an impromptu meeting on an unfamiliar subject. I wanted her to be as prepared as possible so I went through my inbox and forwarded the relevant information. One email had data, the other trends, the other some commentary that would give her a sense of the political landscape. I carefully commented on each one to explain the context. The phone rang. “Karin, I’m searching my inbox for your name, and deleting everything that’s come from you. Now I want you to send me one email with concise bullets I can share at this meeting, nothing else.” When it comes to email, less is more. Summarize, synthesize, use bullets.
  2. It Should Be A Phone Call – I read his email three times. I wasn’t quite sure what he was saying, but it was ticking me off. I filled in the blanks with my missing assumptions. We went back and forth 3 times before we got to the root of the matter. Email feels easy and less disruptive, but often wastes time and drains energy. It the topic is complex, contentious, or emotional pick up the phone or schedule a call.
  3. Too Many CC:’s – I could feel her anger burn through the phone. “Why did he cc you on this email? I’ve got this! I’m not ccing his boss.” It hadn’t struck me as offensive.  I had taken it as a FYI. But to the leader neck-deep in resolution it felt like an escalation. Be sensitive to who you’re copying on a note and why. If you wouldn’t draw them into a meeting or phone conversation on the topic, you may want to think twice. Even better, establish norms of who will be copied on project emails.
  4. Hastily Written – “Karin, how could you recommend this guy for a senior role? I know you say he’s good, but let me forward the email he sent along with his resume.” I was shocked at the grammatical problems: “there” instead of “their” “to” instead of “too.” This guy’s a great leader and knows grammar, but he was moving too fast. His excited response cost him the job, and embarrassed me for recommending him.
  5. False Summaries – We received the summary of the meeting in email, but important detail had been left out. Was the oversight deliberate or simply sloppy? When summarizing meeting notes and next steps, always end with an invitation to add or clarify. I usually start with, “here’s what I captured, what would you add?”
Your Turn: How do you make email more meaningful?
Filed Under:   Communication
 
 
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt is an experienced executive, speaker, and writer with a diverse background in sales, marketing, customer service, merger integration, training and organizational leadership. Her company, Let’s Grow Leaders, helps companies gain a competitive edge by building extraordinary front-line teams. She was recently named to the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trusted Business Behavior by Trust Across America. Karin knows the stillness of a yogi, the reflective road of the marathon runner, and the joy of being a mom raising emerging leaders.
 

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What People Are Saying

Alli Polin   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

I know that it’s probably not great email etiquette but when I get an email sent to a bazillion people or cc’d to everyone and their grandmother, I rarely respond to the entire list. When possible, I want the sender to know that the conversation is between the two of us.

My biggest pet peeve is email that is one really super long paragraph where I can barely make out the thoughts without reading it many times. I’m with you… Really? Have that much to say? Don’t go with email.

letsgrowleaders   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Alli, yeah… that’s a great one… when the cc all and it keeps on going. That can make me batty!

Matt McWilliams   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Best thing I ever learned was the simple act of taking people off the email.

If 10 people are on it and only 5 need my reply, I take the other 5 off. Simple and yet powerful.

Robert Kennedy III   |   16 October 2013   |  

Man!! That old REPLY ALL. I am so AWARE of using that!

letsgrowleaders   |   17 October 2013   |  

Matt, that’s a great practice. Thanks for sharing.

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Karin- spot on. When we target many people with the same e-mail and many cc it sounds like shooting at different targets at the same time. Fruitless and effort wasting.

letsgrowleaders   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Ali, Great metaphor! Thanks so much.

Dave Bratcher   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Call me “Old School”, or maybe I should have been born in a different generation…I still prefer the telephone. I can’t tell how someone in receiving what I am saying over email and all too often, it is misunderstood. Thanks for the info Karin!

letsgrowleaders   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Dave, I agree. I’m sometimes suprised the sensitive topics people chose to cover in email. Even when it’s good news. Often much better to talk live.

Don Currier   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Like Dave, I guess I’m “old school” also when it comes to email. Besides believing that the “reply all” button should be forever removed from email, a major issue for me is that you cannot interpret the true feelings of the person sending it you an email. You sometimes don’t understand if the sender is angry, happy, jerking your chain or something else, where as a phone call or better yet (my age is showing here!!) a face to face discussion where you can get to the real issue fast and not have to exchange emails all day. Emails are a wonderful communication tool if used appropriately, but too often that’s seems not to be the case.

letsgrowleaders   |   17 October 2013   |   Reply

Don, I’m with you. When possible, nothing beats looking em in the eye.

Matt McWilliams   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Email has become the blackhole of communication. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up and implemented. They’ve saved me literally hours a week and made me a better communicator.

Use BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front. It’s a military term that means you should make your most important point first.

SORTA – Stamp Out Reply to All. Reply to All is Neanderthal. I got this one from Tim Sanders. Tim says Replying to All is a sure sign that you are over 30. It’s a terrible habit.

Include an explanation on forwarded emails. Please do not just forward an email to me and expect me to understand it or force me to read through 10 minutes of the email thread. Include a brief intro.

Don’t ever copy over someone’s head.

No bad news over email.

I write about these and a ton more here: http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/how-not-to-suck-at-email-part-two/

letsgrowleaders   |   17 October 2013   |   Reply

Matt, loved your post. Thanks so much for sharing in with LGL. Love it when folks link back to their writing… it helps us all.

Bill Benoist   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Maybe it’s just my company or my industry, but the higher up the ladder I am targeting my email to, the shorter the email. If I’m sending anything to C-Level, I better be able to say what I need in one sentence, no more than two because I know anything else will not be read.

C – Level – 1 or 2 sentences
Regional Managers 3-4 sentences
Operations staff – paragraph or two

BTW – my manager – Say it in the subject line :-)

Jim Ryan   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Nicely put!

letsgrowleaders   |   17 October 2013   |   Reply

Bill, WONDERFUL guidelines. They would fit for my company too.

bill holston   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Great points. Email is great for sending data and information. It is not great communication and really seldom really contains tone of voice. Have you ever noticed when someone reads a simple phrase in and email they inject tone of voice. A simple phrase:
‘Why did you do that?” can be innocent or quite angry.
I have a small staff. I have a 1 email reply rule for me. If it requires a follow up, I get up out of my desk and walk over. I also seldom use an intercom, no body language there either.

my biggest sin is typing too fast and leaving out details.

letsgrowleaders   |   17 October 2013   |   Reply

Bill, a 1 email reply rule is another great tip! thanks so much.

Lisa Hamaker   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Bravo Karin, great post and many useful responses. I too love Ali’s metaphor.

I have learned that the one of the most powerful benefits I provide as a consultant is summarizing this situation and assigning priority for my clients. It gives them a useful starting place and helps them make decisions. They do not always agree with my ideas and priorities, but the summary give them a place to grab hold so they can start working toward the goal effectively.

letsgrowleaders   |   17 October 2013   |   Reply

Lisa, That’s a great technique, thanks for sharing.

Steve Borek   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

A phone call is always better than an email. The latter can be ambiguous.

The new CEO of ATOS, an 80K person firm, declared three years ago they were eliminating all internal emails. They discovered almost 75% of them were unnecessary.

Finally, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, makes it a point to stay in touch with customers. His email is jeff@amazon.com

When he receives a customer complaint, he forwards the message to the appropriate person in the organization with one character “?” Luv Bezos

letsgrowleaders   |   17 October 2013   |   Reply

Steve, GREAT stories. I sense a John Lennon song coming on… Imagine There’s No Email….

David Tumbarello   |   16 October 2013   |   Reply

Like many of the comments, I have been trying to modify my emails to make them shorter. My latest intentional strategy is to write one line per paragraph. That helps me limit my number of main ideas and it helps create visual white space so that the content doesn’t seem overwhelming to the recipient.

I think hand-held digital reading devices are changing the way email and other communication is received, processed, and tolerated.

letsgrowleaders   |   17 October 2013   |   Reply

David, Another great tip! You also raise a really great point, about the shift to smartphones and tablets… making shorter even more desirable.

Jucimara   |   17 October 2013   |   Reply

Excellent! Perfect! I will share with my team. Greetings from Brazil!

letsgrowleaders   |   17 October 2013   |   Reply

Jucimara, Thanks so much. Great to see you here.