If you don't enjoy communicating via email, maybe it’s because everyone has become so bad at it. Specifically, there are 10 different archetypes of emailers that keep popping up in my inbox.
Have they emailed you too?
The Instant Messenger
As a teenager of the late 90s, I remember the thrill of communicating rapidly with short one-liners during the AOL instant messenger days. But now I save that behavior for Slack, iMessage, and WhatsApp. If you have an email thread with more than a dozen messages in it, you might be guilty of this crime. Solution: pick up the phone!
The “No, You Hang Up First"
During those same AOL days, I also remember having four hour phone conversations (with the cable wrapped around my legs) that spiraled into "Let’s just listen to each other do our homework” because neither me nor my new girlfriend wanted to hang up. You don’t need to be the last person to reply to every email. Let it go.
There’s nothing I hate more than being cc’ed on a message with everyone peripherally related to a project, especially when the sender lights the fire with “...thoughts?”. Thankfully, Gmail has a mute button. Don’t expect to hear from me again in those conversations... someone will have to catch me up later. There’s a reason project management software exists.
The Study Abroad Student
I love talking to someone from England or Australia and hearing charming language like “Cheers”. But when you’re a junior executive cold-emailng me from Chicago, when you use language like that, I feel like you just bought your first tie. How was that semester abroad? Just be yourself.
The Reply from the Dead
Life moves pretty quickly, so if you are replying to emails that are more than a few weeks old, I think one of two things: one, your life is out of control and you forgot about my message until just now, and two, you starred/flagged my message but you’re too indecisive to respond. Instead, send a brand new message saying, “We left off talking about XYZ, here’s what I think…”. Take control.
The "Reply Below in Magenta"
Whoever started typing their responses inside the original message with all the colors of the rainbow started one of the worst trends in email history. You reply in green, I reply in red, Mike replies in blue, Jen replies in purple, and before long I feel like I should print the email and hang it on my refrigerator instead of responding. And to make it worse, these colors hardly ever appear correctly on my phone, so it’s confusing. It was a good idea at first, probably in direct response to...
...The Term Paper
Some people write LONG emails. I’m guilty of this too. But there’s a difference between a long email that tells a story or describes a thought process, and a long email with 54 hypothesis & questions. It’s fine to write your grandmother with every detail of your life, but business emails should be short and specific. If you ask a lot of questions, you run the risk of a colorful response (see above).
The Email Signature Brochure
When an email ends with “-Dave”, it leaves me wanting more. Maybe a cell phone number at least, in case I need to call you later. But when an email ends with a headshot, your address, your social media links, a small bio, a legal disclaimer, your newest promotion, a digital signature, and a quote by a past president, it feels like coming back to my car with an advertisement on the windshield. I didn’t ask for this.
The Passive Scheduler
A long time ago, someone gave me the advice to suggest a meeting date, time, and location in one email. It’s assertive, and easy to respond “yes” to, unless the time genuinely doesn’t work. Asking “what dates work for you” in one email, then “any places in mind” in another email is a recipe for lots of needless back-and-forth communication.
The 19th Century Scholar
Email should be like talking. If you find yourself using language worthy of an ink and feather pen (“I hope this correspondence finds you well”), settle down.
What You Can Do About It
First, recognize that email is a very specific form of communication, and there are lots of alternatives. If you need a fast answer, call or text. If you need an open line of communication, use Slack. Host a video chat on Skype or Google Hangouts if you need to troubleshoot multiple problems. And when you have plenty of visuals to share, use Join.me.
And remember, less is more. Concise, direct communication will earn you respect and help you get more done faster.
We can fight this fight together.
Chris Ronzio helps entrepreneurs organize chaos and get things done. Download a free copy of his latest ebook, 100 Productivity Hacks to Improve Your Business, here.