August 06, 2013
About eight years ago, while working at Yahoo!, I developed a few rules of email etiquette. Too many of our team mates were misusing email, or applying it in emotional clumsy ways. Tempers flared, and I had to put out fires.
It was a unique problem to this generation, where email became 75% of all communications inside & outside the company. The more we used it without any guidance, the more we abused it.
When I taught new hires or coached sales execs, I always issued what I call "Rule Number One: Don't Use Email To Give Bad News." By that I mean that email is a horribly ineffective communication channel when it comes to conveying your intentions. Too often, when someone gives you blunt criticism over email, it makes you steam...but in person, you'd be OK.
Even worse, email promotes cowardice at work. People will send me emails that contain language they'd never say to my face. I think some people are as brave behind their laptop as my poodle is behind a plate glass window! As times goes on and the GenY, "I don't believe in real time" ethos sets in...expect email to be the bearer of bad news...and negative emotions.
The key then is to pick up the phone or have a face-to-face discussion when covering emotionally charged, personal or potentially negative issues. As you'll see below, you are 500% times more effective over the phone than over email.
Here's my full Rule Number One, from the Dirty Dozen Rules of Email Etiquette video training program I developed for companies. (Email me if you'd like more information on bringing it to your company, we've got a great deal going between now and Labor Day.)Tweet
May 29, 2013
Email is likely your top communication tool at work, adding up to 75% or more of your communications. Sometimes you do email well, other times, not so much. Much has been written about the nasty-gram emails that circulate around the office, killing off relationships along with your professional reputation.
Most of you are too smart for that gaffe under normal circumstances. You've learned to save it to draft, think it over, and never hit Send. But there's another gaffe that you can easily make and it's the biggest one of all: Threaded Relationships.
By this, I mean that you transmute a real-time relationship into an endless email thread of asynchronous existence. This often happens in your project work, especially if information plays a big part of it. You start out building up a work relationship via meetings or phone calls, and at some point, the threaded relationship starts.
Instead of picking up the phone, you reply to an email (or a thread). Instead of having a chance or scheduled meeting, you craft an email status report and throw it over the fence. Your ePartner falls into that rhythm with you and the thread(s) begin. Eventually, your entire set of information transactions lives in an Inbox or folder. You feel smugly efficient, thinking that the other people at work are wasting valuable time having conversations, often riddled with small talk. And then it happens.
A seven layer thread (an original note with six back-and-forth RE's) turns into a misunderstanding. Sometimes capital letters, question marks and passive-aggressive smiley faces are used. The subject line is so outdated, it reads like a line of RE: RE: RE: code. User frustration sets in, as you and your pen pal grown tired of having to cursor down six feet to review the thread prior to answering the last "HUH?" reply.
Even worse, thread relationships start to build up latency. At first, you are quick on the reply, answering emails in an hour or two. Then, you or your partner shift to four hours or more for our replies. At some point, work-time email requests are answered over a glass (or two) of wine at 9pm and the language gets a little pointed. Eventually, you have to forward previously sent emails to jog a reply. And resentment starts to build up.
Then, the worst can happen. Our common sense mutually fades, and you both start to lob nasty-grams at each other. You assume that given your email volume going on, there are shock absorbers that can smooth over the biggest bumps. And that's when the threaded relationships descends into a bad one - usually culminating in a scathing set of emails that finally lead to a real-time fight. And when you get to that point, you wonder how such a thing could happen!?
Takeaway: To avoid this mistake, routinely break the thread with a phone call. Likely, you'll solve any misunderstandings quicker than you will behind your laptop. If you've fallen out of regular real-time interactions, ask yourself, "how's that working for you two?" Fall back into the habit of regular conversations, even if you decide to limit then to 15 or 30 minutes for the sake of productivity.
It makes sense that our gravest errors with technology are subtle ones that occur due to a lack of knowledge on our part. But now you know, which may just save you from your over-efficient self.
For more: Check out my Email Training Course for companiesTweet
December 05, 2012
Sometimes, it's a computer on a desk. Others, it's your iPhone by the bedpost. Any device will deliver your email, a constant string of welcome and unwelcome chatter. And your curiosity kills you, just like a kid watching the post man stuff the mail box. You can't help but check it over and over again all the day long.
And right before you go to bed, just before you brush your teeth or tuck in the kids, you steal a glance at your Inbox. You just can't help yourself. In most cases, the chatter is innocuous. In the rarest of cases, something needs your attention before the next morning. And I mean, rare.
But then there's the monthly or quarterly sleep killer that never fails to show up: An email that pisses you off. Maybe someone has been sipping and sending, being curt when they should be kind. You read the note, wonder, "why would he say that to me!?" and either tap back a salvo or trudge off to bed to mutter to yourself. You rehearse how you are going to tell her off tomorrow.
It sneaks into your sleep psyche too, sometimes your dreams. You complain to your partner or friends at the gym the next day, getting worked up about a stupid email you read at 10:30 last night. Then you go off on the culprit the next day, who often sheepishly replies, "jeez, I didn't mean any thing by it!" Does this read familiar to you?
Email is a horrible way to express your intentions, so of all media to eat before bedtime, it's the worst one for your soul.
Lately, I've been passing by my laptop on the way to bed. It's not there. I don't drag the iPad to bed, I read out of my Kindle instead. And I'm sleeping better too. Nothing's gone wrong, either, so turns out, it was a waste of time. The next morning, over a cup of coffee, last night's email never reads that badly.
For more, check out this video, from one of my keynotes.Tweet
June 26, 2012
If you lose readership of your email, your influence wanes at work. If you misuse it enough, you'll turn partners into detractors. If you mismanage it as a resource, you'll force everyone to do more work and they'll despise you for it. To quote TechStars grad and Vanilla founder Mark Sullivan, "Don't suck at email."
I'm surprised, though, that few companes teach email effectiveness. That's why so many people I've worked with suck at email. It's not something we should leave to users to figure out (using our company name in their email address!?). It can be your Colt 45 tool to get things done, or your Achille's Heel. Your choice.
Here are five ways not to stink at email:
1. Kill your inbox every Friday. Letting your Inbox get full of once-read but not-answered emails stresses you out. It also sends a signal to your bizmates that you don't have your act together OR you are way over committed. Don't think that an auto-responder like "I'm so busy, sorry if I don't reply" will cut the mustard. It comes across as showboating, unless you are a mega-star that's getting pummled by fan mail.
2. Review before you click Send. In most email situations, we write, send, then review. That's the ready-fire-aim approach to communications. Take a few seconds to read what you just wrote, and do so from the reader POV. Remember, this is work and you are trying to get stuff done. If you are mad, then really reread what you are writing. Consider picking up the phone instead, so you can convey your intentions instead of raw emotions.
3. Craft effective subject lines. What if the New York Times sucked at writing headlines for their stories? What if their headlines read, "RE: The Economy"? Today, to be effective at email, we need to use subject lines like publishers use headlines. Most of your email recipients are on-the-go, so your subject line is your advertisement for their attention. If you are requesting some specific action, say it in the subject line. If you are updating on the topic, summarize the development in a half a tweet's worth of words.
4. Don't reply to all unless you have to. More email from you equals more reason to ignore you in our high noise to signal life. In the study I did on email usage for EmailAtoZ, only 12% of reply to all occurances were necessary. The others were pure RE:RE:RE: conversations that invovled everyone in the original note. More here.
5. Write email during professional hours. Sipping and sending can be as dangerous as drinking and dialing/driving. When you write all your emails on a plane, at 10pm with five glasses of red wine in you, you suck at email. When you setup your laptop on a coffee table on a Sunday, and plow through 100 emails while watching the game, your notes don't make much sense and you likely display a tone of resentment. Make your meetings shorter, and preserve work week time to kill your Inbox. If Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson can do it, you can to. And he's awesome on email.
February 21, 2012
Your company's culture springs up based on the conversations leaders lead and actions they allow. "How are things done around here?" is the most important question you need to manage if you want to build a positive and strong culture.
Think of communication tools, then, as culture-building devices. Meetings, casual conversations, phone calls, email exchanges and letters/documents - all of these comprise The Conversation. But among them, one stands out as the 800 Pound Gorilla: email. It's anywhere from 1/2 to 90% of your conversational life both inside and outside the company.
That's why entrepreneur and Tech Stars teacher Mark Sullivan advised all new CEO to "not suck at email." Get that part of your leadership life wrong, and bad things will always cascade down from it. It amazes me that very few companies have an "Excellence Area" for email. Most don't even offer Email Etiquette Training.
Most companies have an Obscenity Avoidance policy to prevent harassment suits, excessive foul language, etc. They teach Duh' level techniques, like "Don't Always Hit Reply To All" when email is flooding everyone's Inbox like a tsuanmi. But that's reactive.
Email is either your secret weapon or achille's heel. Here are some examples:
1. Customer Mangement - When you receive an email from a ticked off customer, what's the policy? At broadcast.com, Mark Cuban had The Two Minute Call Rule. For our business services group, every one of us was expected to phone a ticked off or disappointed customer withing two minutes of reading the email from them. It made us very accountable, and usually, the ticked off customer was somewhat apologetic about the tone of his email! It separated us from other companies, where the email was socialized around for the 'best response' (read: cover your butt!). The gap in time between the Send and your live response almost always simmers the customer to the boiling point. And email reads horribly unless you are saying YES! to whatever they are demanding.
2. Talent Management - Is your email policy a benefit or a penalty for your talent? At top-rated employer SAS Institute, it's how they attract top talent and keep them for life. Dr. Jim Goodnight believes that we should turn off our computers around 5, go home and live our life. And weekends should be ... weekends. His Email Only During Professional Hours policy is a recruiting tool and also ensures top quality work and less meltdowns. Do you think your 11:30pm missive, a product of sipping and sending, is really that coherant?
3. Conflict Resolution - When I worked at Yahoo, we brought in Reader's Digest veteran Greg Coleman in 2002. He was appalled at how much he had to manage complaints between his reports. So he required anyone with a complaint about another Yahoo, to tell the other Yahoo to his/her face or phone if they aren't local. If they still needed him involved, he'd consider it. It created a culture of courage, where you dealt with your issues with real-time conversations among grown-ups.
But many companies have an email culture where you copy bosses and other influencers to get your way. Or even worse, you use email to disagree, criticize or talk about emotionally weight things ... so you don't have to have a live conversation. This can only lead to problems, as email is a terrible way to convey our intentions. If you've ever received an email from a boss saying, "that is stupid" and boiled about it for weeks - you know what I mean.
Here's more posts on how to turn Email Into Your Secret Weapon
January 25, 2011
Depending on your corporate or company culture, it's easy to get 100 or 200 emails a day - all expecting your precious attention. There are less leaders than two years ago, so more people report to you or feel the need to report to you. The CC/CYA gang copies you on everything, the good the bad and the irrelevant. You've made your way on so many internal distribution lists, your blackberry sounds like a Vegas casino, going off all the time 24/7.
So what to do? You can't possible keep doing this, and expect to get any time to think through the problems of the business. You can't ignore it, because it will just pile up and when your Inbox has 500 in it, you'll feel pressure and likely feel depressed. And guilty.
A few years ago, I was getting over 300 emails a day, and it was crushing me. So, after doing some research, to coin a Tim Ferriss term, I built a hack for it. Within 90 days, I cut my incoming emails to less than 100 a day, and my Inbox never had more than about 40 or 50 items in it to be filed/responded to or deleted. How did I do it?
1 - Sell The Group On Low Information: Tell every one of your email buddies that you are going on a low information, or need-to-read, diet. Explain that by being more succinct and self-reliant, we'll have enough time to solve problems and innovate. Tell direct reports to consider this part of their annual review (Return On Attention).
2 - Use the CLEAR system on repeat offenders. This is where you send a nicely-but-firmly written letter (see post) that instructs people to ask five questions before they send you and email: *C/Is it connected to my job? *L/Give me a list of what you want me to do about it. *E/What do you expect from me in this situation? *A/What are my avenues to delegate? R/What's the return on my attention and time? This really reduced the noise level. For many, they never considered things from my point of view.
3 - Tell people to Stamp Out Reply To All. Put it in your email footer (Please join me in my SORTA campaign to Stamp Out Reply To All!)
4 - Don't respond to every email, just the ones where your response adds value. Silence on your end can certainly close the loop in many situations - and those who are just noise will realize that you are either not reading them, or choosing not to respond.
Visit www.EmailAtoZ.com for more ideas or to find out about my training program for companies.
October 22, 2010
This would be like the police issuing guns to new beat cops, only training those that accidently shoot the wrong person or fail to tag a fleeing felon. But companies do this, and I should know, my company's Email Etiquette Program has been administered to over 50,000 people at this point. In almost every case, there was no formal training in place.
I suspect that it's just a matter of time until email is recognized as the dominant corporate communication channel, making excellent/etiquette training a no-brainer. Until that time comes, expect to see:
* Endless email threads that only complicate projects * Lawsuits for inappropriate content
* Relationship misunderstandings via emails * Wasted time and missed opportunities
Does your company have anything in place to teach style, values, branding and rules to your people? It starts with a point of view:
1. Email is weak when it comes to conveying emotions.
2. Less is more, don't wear out your Inbox welcome.
3. Email is forever. When you hit send, it's going to be archived somewhere.
Those three points give your training group a framework for helping your people master the fine art of digital one-to-some communications. In my case, Deeper Media identified twelve rules that capture these three points, starting with #1: Stamp Out Reply To All.
Recommended read: Send: Why People Email So Badly, And How To Do It Better
October 13, 2010
Face it; your emails are part of a snow storm blowing into someone's Crack berry or smart phone. Instead of carefully reading through the items in your inbox, your recipients scroll them like spinning a roulette wheel. I see it every day on the road.
They open a few, answer even less, and your carefully written action-required email is ignored.
If you want to jump out of the e-noise and improve your readership with your email buddies, you need to hone your skills at writing good subject lines. Think about newspapers, their MVPs are the people that come up wit eye-grabbing headlines. We've been trained our whole life to scan for must-reads. Same goes with emails or blog titles. Good headlines drive click through.
The basics are:
* Vague is bad
* Hey! is not a real subject line
* RE: RE: FW: FW: is not attractive and will not be read right away
When I know someone well, I will make a call to action in the subject line if my email is intended to get someone to do something. If I need to change a call, I put it in the subject line. If I need you to send me a file, I put it in the subject. You'd be amazed how your response rates jumps.
When I am in a less intimate business relationship, I work on a three to five word subject that zeros in on why I'm sending the email. If we are working on an event together I'll put "About the sales conference" in the subject.
When you reply, feel free to start a new subject (too often we just reply and the subject line stays the same, except now with a RE: before it.) Let the new subject line redefine where the email thread is going. This not only helps to focus the email exchange on a real outcome, it keeps the conversation going. This is especially true if many of your email buddies are usually mobile. They scroll through subjects and make their choices almost on impulse.
Now let's talk blog posts or FB Notes: Banal titles don't drive click thrus or retweeets. You need to grab them with either a provocative statement or a relevant promise (my approach, usually). If you improve your headlining to gather attention, you'll see your statistics jump like you did when you learned or outsourced search engine optimization. Don't be lazy here, you've done a great deal of work on that great post you want everyone to read.
To sharpen your headline skills, visit Daily Beast or Huffington Post and study the relationship between clever headlines and retweets or comments. Do the same over at Yahoo sports. Don't bother with visually driven sites like TMZ as the gossip is the draw.
This is one of the ideas I teach over at my Email Training Website. Email is the vast majority of your knowledge output, so consider yourself a publisher that need to focus as much on form as content.
February 15, 2010
One of my Dirty Dozen Rules Of Email Etiquette is: "Don't Be So Heavy"
Simply put, you cannot be sure how fast your email recipient's connection speed is, so don't send something bigger than a few megabytes via an attachment. In my training program, I recommend using the YouSendIt service to park big files in the sky, notifying your recipient that it's waiting on them to download at their convenience.
Recently, I realized that regardless of size, most attachments don't need to be sent. Instead, they need to be parked in the cloud. Last month, I had a professional photog (Lesley Bohm) shoot new photos of me for a new website, new book cover, etc. She shot massive raw files, which gives me the freedom to use for blow up posters at speaking events or thumbnail size headshots for brochures, FB, etc.
After doing some photoshop work, she sent me the three top pics 8X12 300DPI (these are 7 - 10 meg files). I needed to send these to a meeting planner that was setting up promotion for an upcoming event. So I parked the three files on Typepad, and sent URLs to the meeting planner with "right click to save as or drag to desktop" instructions. No need for attachments.
A few days later, I was sending my customized reading recommendations for hair dressers and salon owners to a few dozen people who'd email me for one - and I did the same thing. Parked the PDF on Typepad, and sent the URL. It saves me time (no step to attach, no "ooops forgot to send attachment re-sends). Previously, when sending out PDFs or any type of non-pic attachment, I got the occasional response that they didn't receive the information or the attachment didn't come through. No more with my new cloud attachment program - It's just a click away.
Here's another email management advantage to this approach: Reduces the size of your Outlook/Entourage data file. (Video) You see, when you send an attachment, your computer stores an extra copy of it in your data file, and eventually you'll get a bloated file (multiple gigs) that causes your email client to take a long time to launch, run slow or produce the dreaded "broken data base" error message that requires rebuilding your file or using your backup/restore software. As part of my email training, I've always advised keeping your email data file slim by archiving and permanent delete. Using a no-attachment approach is another way to keep your file slim and speedy.
By the way, companies like Kraft Foods and Novell Software have licensed my Email Etiquette Training Program for their employees - it's no brainer training for the information age. Contact me for information on how you can bring it to your company.
January 12, 2010
From my training program, The Dirty Dozen Rules Of Email Etiquette, here's Rule #3 -- Stamp Out Reply To All. This is a huge problem for many of us working in mid to large companies.
Watch this video clip and find out why Reply To All must be dealt with and how to convince others to stop using it all the time. VIDEO: Rule #3 Stamp Out Reply To All