Very few people take a formal class in how to send and receive emails. And that means that you essentially “wing it” with one of your primary forms of business communication.
So, let’s talk about some tune-ups to get more of your email answered, and to improve the experience all the way around.
Get Your Email Answered
Everyone is busy. No one gives you their full attention. Think about you. Are you only reading this article, or do you have several browser tabs open? Are you answering texts in between paragraphs? Let’s start there: everyone is busy and attention is fragmented, and to that end, it means you must do the following:
- Make your subject line solid - The first two lines are everything - Right after your salutation (Dear Chris), the line or lines that follow are the most important. “I need your decision on two very important points.” Or “Will you sponsor our next ‘Concert in the Park’ event for $5000?” For the love of Buddha, skip anything like “How are you?” or “I hope you are well.” We all hope the other person is well. It’s wasted. And worse, when our brains see what we expect, we turn off some amount of our attention automatically.
- Be as brief as possible - People write as if they’re composing an essay for a college professor. Be crisp and to the point. “Hi Deb! Richard’s performance is down for the third quarter in a row so I’m going to promote Aiesha instead. Any reservations?” Brevity is vital in today’s world. Our gut tells us to write out the entire backstory, but in most cases, it’s not necessary.
- Seek a next action - Once you’ve said what needs saying, be clear about what you want the recipient of the email to do. “Please let me know when you receive this message. I’ll follow up a few days after I hear that you have.” Or “No action necessary. Just keeping you posted.” Or whatever it is.
- Short circuit the back-and-forth - The absolute second worst kind of email is a back-and-forth. “What do you want for lunch?” “I dunno. What about you?” “Oh, I don’t know. Anything come to mind?” (You probably just felt your anxiety raise just reading that.) The best way to do this is by making a suggestion, right or wrong and never ever sending an open-ended message to someone. “Want to get Thai for lunch?” “I think 3% is too little for the annual raise.” And if the message comes back to you more than twice, get on the phone.
Email signatures aren’t movie credits - Shorten your email signature. Somewhere back in the late 90s, it became cool to sign your email as if you’re a general on an aircraft carrier, with seven to ten lines of information, including 45 ways to reply back. Make your signature your name, your title, an email address, and a phone number. For the most part, that’s all anyone wants.
And before I let you go, I have a little drilling down to do.
Subject Lines are Your Secret Weapon
I’ve already told you that everyone is busy, everyone is skimming their email inbox and attention is minimal. Think about your own inbox. Look at the subjects there. Do some make you want to open? Do others make you want to delete without reading? Which ones get that worst distinction of being opened but not read, and not responded to forever until you guiltily delete it?
Your subject lines matter immensely. I want to give you a few samples to steal and adapt for your own uses:
- I need 8 minutes of your time to get your perspective - one trick of this subject line is that I chose “8” instead of 5 or 10. Everyone says 5 or 10. The other benefit is that it’s clear what I’m asking for: someone’s opinion, not a sale.
- Want to get Italian on Thursday? - This is obviously a lunch offer, a specific cuisine, and a day on the calendar. It gives the recipient three response options: no, not that cuisine, or not that date. (Or some combo.) This kind of concise email is a godsend. You can do it with work issues, too.
- I want to sell you something, but I’m 87% sure you want to buy it. - Here I go picking a weird number again. In this case, the straightforward honesty is the “gimmick.” People hate feeling “tricked” by emails. This one is right across the plate.
- This might make a better phone call - Here’s a play. You *know* what you want to cover can’t be handled briefly in an email, but you want to give the other person the right to refuse the call. Here’s a way to throw one extra “stop” in the way, in case the information is sensitive, or you’re not as certain about the outcome.
- How would you solve this conflict? - This subject line is great because it gets right to the point of what you need to cover. It has a lot of variants if you think of it.
Turn This into a Checklist
If I were telling you what to do, I’d take a sticky note and put the details of this on it:
- Solid subject line
- Tight first two lines
- Be brief
- Seek a next action
- Prevent back-and-forth exchanges
- Simple email signature
There. All in one tight little package for you. What do you think? If you want to practice on someone, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always open to hearing what you think of what I write!
About Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better support modern humans. The age of factory-sized interactions is over. We all come one to a pack. And it’s time to accept that we are all a little bit dented. Chris advisesleadership teams to empower team members by sharing actionable insights on talent development. He also works with marketing and communications teams to more effectively reach people who want to be seen and understood before they buy what a company sells.
Bank of America, N.A. engages with Chris Brogan to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. The third parties within articles are used under license from Chris Brogan. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.
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