Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

By Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

7 Rules That Will Make Your Emails Rule

7 Rules That Will Make Your Emails Rule 150 150 MIchael and Bonnie Harvey

Is your mailbox full? Ours sure is—every day! Do you read each and every email? We don’t. Because there are simply too many! Most messages are spam, and as a result, we miss quite a few important things. We’re sure you’ve discovered a few quick scanning methods, like looking for senders you recognize, subject lines that sound familiar, and replies to your latest email chains.

In a business world driven by email, how do you write effective messages that will actually be read? We don’t mean marketing emails either. There are far too many courses and books on that subject. (And frankly, we wish they’d stop.) But how can you write effective correspondence that will sort through the distraction, confusion, and noise in your recipients’ inbox?

We’ve used email since the days of “You’ve got mail!” And here’s what we have learned:

  1. Protect the Subject

Create a subject line that’s easy for you and your recipients to spot among the crowd. Make sure it’s pertinent to the topic and no more than three words in length. If the sender has looped in to another email to start a new conversation, change the subject to reflect the new topic. Change it back if the subject shifts again. Your recipient will appreciate the consistency.

  1. Keep the String Going

Once in a while, your recipient might send a reply message from a different mailbox. This could possibly change the subject line and the sender’s name. And more importantly, this can disturb the ongoing trail of emails on the same subject. If this happens, find the trail on the previously used email address, and paste it into the bottom of your response. This way, both of you will able to see the conversation’s path more clearly.

  1. Who’s Watching?

One of the biggest mistakes we’ve all made before is to “reply all” when we didn’t intend to. Double-check who’s CC’d on the message before you hit Send. A new recipient could’ve been added or someone else could’ve been removed. This is especially important when emailing larger organizations. They’re trained to move CCs around depending on who they want on the message. Sometimes letting their boss go from the chain removes a bit of pressure.

  1. Get On Your Phone!

If there’s a disagreement, misunderstanding, or miscommunication via email, pick up your phone and figure it out verbally. You’ll be surprised at what can be done during a personal and friendly phone call instead of a contentious and lifeless email. And NEVER fight through email. It’s emotionally draining, time-consuming, and both sides feel like they have to get the final word in. A lot of these arguments can be solved in just five minutes on the phone.

  1. Obtaining the Evidence

Email memorializes everything that has been said. Unless you want it to come back at you later, keep conversations away from email and on the phone instead, or even better, in person. But for this same reason, email is a great way to document what was agreed upon. We like to discuss verbally, whether on the phone or at a meeting, and then summarize the points, action items, or consensus in a memo that lets others know, “This is our understanding of what we’ve agreed to. If you have any additions, corrections, or comments, please respond by tomorrow at 5pm or we will assume that this is our understanding.”

  1. Only One Thing

Have you noticed that when you send someone an email with a few instructions or tasks, only the last one is acknowledged or completed? People only remember the highway entrance ramp, and the highway exit ramp. Everything else is all meshed together. So, keep things simple! Ask for one thing per email. If you have several requests, create a separate email chain for each, or even better, send a new email each time they complete a request. This way, you can keep it all on the same trail.

  1. Keep Things Friendly

Say something nice about your recipient in the message’s first line and the PS, and sandwich your message right in between. Break paragraphs up into two or three-sentence smaller paragraphs. If they can see the end, they’ll more likely read it. Let them know you’re open to a phone call if clarification is needed. And don’t forget to thank them for their completion or previous response. If their boss is CC’d, you should note how effective they are, even if they really aren’t. They’ll be more likely to live up to a compliment that makes them look good in front of their bosses. Once your business with them is finished, be sure to thank them publicly, with their boss copied on the message. They will both look forward to working with you again!

We could go on forever about email best practices and etiquette, but these are the general rules of thumb that will make your emails “rule!”

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