I came of age before email, so although I’m very comfortable with technology I’m also very careful with it. Rather than being a medium that replaced the hand-written or typed memo, email seems to have morphed into a combo of IM and a telephone conversation. I treat email just like I treat all written communication, and I’ve regretted it every time I’ve violated my own rules.
For a leader, particularly an executive, email is a tool best used sparingly and deliberately. With that in mind, here’s my tips to keep email useful and avoid the drama:
1. Keep it short
Most people now access the internet, particularly email, on mobile devices. Your message has to be digestible on a small screen. Furthermore, execs don’t have a lot of time, help them out by avoiding giving them more than they need. If your email goes beyond one or two mobile screens, you probably should have a face to face conversation.
2. Leave out the emotion
It’s tempting to use superlatives and hyperbole as a substitute for brevity, but not every decision has the fate of the nation in the balance. Present the facts as you see them and recommend solutions. Exclamation points and CAPS degrade your credibility.
3. Use descriptive subject lines
Tell your audience what the email is about, don’t hide it. When forwarding, don’t be afraid to change the subject line if it doesn’t convey to yourintended recipient what you’re saying. Many people simply don’t open emails with subjects that don’t interest them. I once worked for a person who had 8,000 unread emails, no joke!
4. Keep the “cc” list short; use “reply to all” very sparingly
It’s not fun to be forcibly included in a conversation in which you’re not interested. Don’t be “that guy.”
5. Don’t send anything you don’t want posted on the bulletin board in the break room
OK, I know there is a place for private communication between executives about sensitive matters, be they staffing, internal disciplinary, budgetary matters, or whatever. Bear in mind that the email record is the written record, and sometimes the only record, and so be sure that record reflects facts and relevant information. Expect your emails to be read later without background or context.