My father has a hard time communicating what he wants. English is not his first language, but he’s also, at times, an impatient person. If he needs something, he grasps for any word that seems to fit the bill (I’m guilty of doing this as well) and stiches them together with pauses and repeated words. It can often be frustating, but I love my father, so we work it out.
Unfortunately, I don’t love everyone in the office. I don’t have the patience to decipher emails and connect pronouns with email threads or sift through paragraphs to find action items. A number of people in the office seem to reply to emails as if they were in a conversation, which is fine, unless there are about ten other people on that email reading your five word response to a status update.
I’m not even referencing a specific email, so don’t start your belly-aching if anyone from work is reading this. Wait, I am, but I’m sure that person doesn’t peruse my personal networks often.
Here are my email tips for the confused and for budding email wordsmiths in office environments:
1. Not everyone has to be part of every single email. CCing people is probably a good idea, but it shouldn’t be your default action.
2. Keep it simple, stupid — a phrase that almost fits every situation. If you’re starting an email chain (or what you feel like will become an email chain), start stating your shit from the get-go. If you want something answered or you’re not sure about what to do next, make sure you end the email asking exactly that.
3. If there is an email thread going on, don’t you dare, DON’T YOU DARE, refer to something in a previous email as ‘it’ or ‘she’ or ‘then’. People need dates, names, and actual titles of things, man.
4. The happy face is your friend… and your enemy. Use it wisely.
5. Lists are preferable.
6. There is a difference between “Thanks” and “Thank you” when you sign off (or am I the only person who believes this?).
7. If there are multiple components (documents, decks, excel sheets) to complete a task, for the love God, please include them in the final email with the action items, especially if it’s been awhile since you sent the supplementary docs. People don’t like digging in their email, unless they absolutely have to because a superior thinks he/she is missing something (totally not speaking from personal experience).
8. When in doubt, just walk over to the person’s desk. Fortunately, if it’s just one person that you’re exchanging emails with, walk your mushy ass over to that person’s desk. If it’s a group of people on an email and you’re confused, see the project manager and bring candy. Consider the walk as a break from the blaring screens we stare at for hours on end. Emails can be misinterpreted so easily. It’s just better to talk to the person and see that person’s face and hear the inflection. It’s better than second-guessing every sentence in an email.
Follow these steps and maybe people won’t talk smack about you in the office anymore. :)