Here’s a term for you: email brick. It’s that dense blob of text in an email that starts at the top and doesn’t come up for air until the end. No line breaks, paragraphs or bullet points, and often, no readers. We tend to avoid reading those emails, eyeing them warily and opting to get back to them later. Much of the time, we don’t.
When #WorkTrends host Meghan M. Biro got to talking with email etiquette expert Bruce Mayhew, it was soon apparent that we’re emailing each other all wrong. Bruce is President of Bruce Mayhew Consulting (BMC), a corporate trainer, executive coach, expert on productivity and generational differences, and passionate advocate of emailing better.
90% of our communication is done by email, and the email brick is just one of many sins we commit. Others include incoherent subject lines, putting the main idea down at the end of the message and, on the receiving end, answering emails too quickly. On that last point, Meghan asked for a best practice. “I could spend three hours a day in constant communication back and forth, just trying to do the right thing and respond,” she said.
Don’t do it, Bruce answered. “If you train your audience that you respond to an email in 10 minutes,” they will start expecting it every time. “You end up playing Whac-A-Mole with your inbox.” Our time management gets derailed along with other priorities, too.
Problem is, we learned to write and then learned how to email, he noted, and these are very different forms. He shared three simple tips for writing emails worth opening: put your main point in the first sentence, use bullet points, and write a clear subject line with enough information to indicate exactly what’s going on in the message. 5-7 words usually does the trick he said. Don’t start with “Hey, quick question.”
The underlying reason to clean up our emails isn’t just housekeeping, it’s trust. Sending emails that hit the sweet spot boost personal credibility, he said. They set up a positive feedback loop faster than you can say dopamine high. The next time we see an email from the conscientious sender, we open it. We look forward to it, thinking this person knows what they’re talking about — which goes miles in improving that relationship.
“Email still counts, and it’s the way we’re all communicating,” Meghan reminded the audience. Time to practice those bullet points.
Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode.
Twitter Chat Questions
Q1: Why are we failing at email etiquette? #WorkTrends
Q2: What techniques can help us write better email? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders help employees get better at emailing? #WorkTrends