Tuesday, August 6, 2013

7 Things You Need to Know About Email

Here are the passages I underlined from SEND: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better, by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe.

1. Tone

If you don’t consciously insert tone into an email, a kind of universal default tone won’t automatically be conveyed. Instead, the message written without regard to tone becomes a blank screen onto which the reader projects his own fears, prejudices, and anxieties.

On email, people aren’t quite themselves: they are angrier, less sympathetic, less aware, more easily wounded, even more gossipy and duplicitous. . . . There’s a reason for this. In a face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) conversation, our emotional brains are constantly monitoring the reactions of the person to whom we’re speaking. We discern what they like and what they don’t like. Email, by contrast, doesn’t provide a speedy real-time channel for feedback. Yet the technology somehow lulls us into thinking that such a channel exists.

The exclamation point is a lazy but effective way to combat email’s essential lack of tone.

Because of email’s inherent affectlessness, a little flattery never hurts, and it’s sometimes necessary to be extravagantly polite.

2. Responsiveness

A 2006 survey asked office workers if they would consider it rude not to receive a response to an email within three hours. 50% said they would. What’s more, one in 20 expected to hear back within five minutes.

Jack Welch … believes that responding to an email request with an absolute “There’s just no way I can do that, but good luck” is a greater kindness than answering with a “Maybe” that’s never going to happen.

If you get and send more than 100 a day (the average for white-collar workers is 140), that’s roughly 30,000 a year. And if you’re in, oh, the 300-a-day-club, you’re dealing with 100,000 or so emails a year. It’s hard to think of anything else we do 15,000 to 100,000 times a year. Except breathe. Or blink. And those don’t normally require a tremendous amount of thought.

3. Time-Suck

You often don’t know if an email is worth opening until you open it; opening it takes time and attention; the interruption can eat away at productivity. After a worker has been interrupted with a message, it generally takes nearly half an hour for him to return to his original task. And that’s assuming he returns to that original task.

4. Forwarding

Rule: Never forward anything without permission, and assume everything you write will be forwarded.

Write your apology with the expectation that it will be forwarded without your permission.

5. Multiple Recipients

Patrick Lencioni, the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, told us, “When I send an email to one person, there’s a 95% chance I’ll get a reply. When I send an email to 10 people, the response rate drops to 5%. When you add people, you drastically decrease the exclusivity and make people feel they don’t need to read the email or do what you ask.” He calls this the electronic version of the Freeloader Effect.

6. Injecting Personality

When wading through an occasion of emails, don’t you yearn for one to jump out? After a hundred people email you that they “look forward to meeting you” so that they can share their “qualifications” or “describe the benefits of their product” or present you with a “business opportunity,” you crave something by someone who took the time to choose words with personality, rather than simply cribbing phrases from the modern business lexicon. The trick is to be vivid and specific—even, perhaps, revealing—without forgetting your original relationship with the person to whom you’re writing.

7. Asks

If you’re asking several questions, consider using numbers or asterisks to set them apart.