Email communication – Help yourself by helping the recipient.

Do you use email effectively?

(Answer – Some of the time!)

Are you getting your message across? Do you get the responses you expect?

I started writing this a month or two ago, but managed to speak to most the people that needed it so stopped writing. However I have noticed various other groups with similar email issues so thought I would get it all down on paper. Also I received a copy of the ‘Jelly Effect – How to make your communication stick’, and wanted to write MY version of communication to see how it would change whist reading the book.

Every day we receive emails, some good, some bad. We reply to those that are easy to reply to and spend hours hunting for that one snippet that we know is there somewhere, or worse still forget,  ignore them.

Golden Rule: Where possible try to keep your emails to single topics (note I say topic rather than ‘Subject’ we will get to that later.)

Things to consider:

1.       Subject line
2.       Content – relevant to subject line, ie stick to the topic.
3.       All relevant details
4.       Direction to Action.
5.       Who to send to. To, CC, BCC.
6.       Use the Reply to button or create new email.

1. Subject lines.
Emails have a subject line so that the recipient can tell what the email is about, it also acts to assist in filing / finding the email at a later date. Therefore make your Subject line relevant and specific. The analogy that is often used is that of a newspaper headline. A paper would never be published without a catchy headline and once reading it you would have content that matched the teaser. Well with most papers anyway ;o) Bad Subject – ‘This Thursday’ Good Subject – ‘JCI – Board Meeting – Thurs 3rd June 2010’ This could even have – ’18:30’ or ‘Minutes’ or ‘Action Points for SW’ to help distinguish it further. Stick to the facts, make it easy to identify and people will reply quickly. By having a specific subject you also focus yourself on the content ( point 2 and 3) of your email and also the expected response (point 4)

2. Content. Make sure your content is relevant to your topic.
If your subject is ‘JCI – Board Meeting – Thurs 4th November 2010’ Then that is what you should  write about. This prevents information getting lost and ensures you have a focused email that is easy for someone to respond to. Avoid talking about other projects, or potential meetings, as this information will be hard to find later.

3. Content. Is it detailed and to the point?
How many face to face conversations have you had where the other person assumes you know what they are talking about? ‘oh that meeting last week’ hmm I had 3 meetings with you last week, ‘Which one, what was it about?’ when you are there you ask. In an email you don’t get that instant feedback therefore you need to pre-empt the questions to ensure your point and expected response is 100% clear. Otherwise you end up with a protracted email thread with information scattered across several emails. (This is a great tip for general communication anyway, actually tell people what you want them to know, not what you think they need to know based on your version of their existing knowledge) Bad Content – ‘Just checking you are ok with the meeting next week’ Good content – ‘To confirm we have arranged a meeting at 10am on Thursday 21st October 2010 at the Regus Business Lounge (Davidson house, xxxxxxxx) Where we will be discussing strategies to improve communication within the organisation. The meeting is scheduled to last no more than 1 hour with 3 attendees, CG, SW and LH’

4. Call to Action
Great, you have sent an email with a great subject line that contains the relevant and detailed content. So, Who read it? Have they done what you were expecting? Hmm so maybe we need a little more. Lets add a Call to Action. So what do you need to know? ‘Please read and confirm you accept the actions assigned to you’, ‘Please confirm by return that you are able to supply xxxx by Monday 21st at 13:00’ When using this be detailed, everyone has a different take on ‘by’ Monday. Is that the end of Monday, do you need it for a meeting on Monday morning, are you going to be reading your emails over the weekend, if not then do you mean by 4pm on Friday so you have a chance to read it before you leave? In the example I have also given an immediate action, ‘confirm by return’ I will therefore receive an email today and know that the task is in hand rather than receiving nothing at 13:00 on Monday.

5. Who to Send to. To, CC and BCC
To: This person needs to read the email and expected to reply
CC: This person needs the information but is not expected to reply (but may have valuable feedback) – potential grey area here, with large recipient list people tend to split it between To and CC
BCC: Blind Carbon Copy, This person receives a copy of the email without the others knowledge.

Does your email have lists of points for different people, Do you have 6-10 people to send it to?
Well ask yourself if the content is specific enough. It could well be, it could be an attachment that is the minutes of a meeting, so everyone does need it.  But if it is in the body of the email maybe you need to revise the content and send several specific emails to individuals. Even with minutes of meetings I would be happier to receive 2 emails, 1 with the attachment of the minutes (sent to everyone) and another with ‘Action points for SW’ (This is without doubt me being lazy, but if I have an easy to find list, there is less time wasted hunting for minutes, opening the doc reading everything to check if I need to do any of it etc) CCing This detailed ‘Action points for SW’ email would also be a great benefit to the Chairman of the meeting so CC them in. They can and will ignore it. Marking them all as read in one hit. Safe in the knowledge they when they next speak to XX they can quickly find that persons action list and check on progress.

6. Use the REPLY Button
Does everyone need to see you say ‘Thanks’ – Simple answer No.

Does everyone need to see you say ‘ Yes i will complete that by xxx, here are the questions I have at this stage…’ – No.

Reply to the sender to say ‘ Yes I will complete that by xxx, I will be emailing separate questions to those concerned.’ Then create new specific emails, following the rules, as needed.

One thing I personally hate is getting emails that drift off the subject, that have nothing to do with me, or that are relevant to me but the question to me is lost in the noise.

In Summary

Help yourself by helping others, give them all and only, the information they need so that they can respond to you as you expect. Once you start doing this, they will pick up the same habit, as they will already see the benefits of what you are doing.

Feel free to include this link  ‘Better email tips’ in your email signature.

Comment on what you have read, and I can update the post. It’s all simple stuff and we must remember to use it.

Email communication – Help yourself by helping the recipient.

Posted in Coaching, Productivity, Site Info.