It’s easier than ever to send a corporate email — and that’s a huge problem. Misleading and meandering messages often clog corporate inboxes and lead to poor communication among colleagues. Here’s a look at five common email mistakes and ways to fix them.
So. Much. Email. If your company could collectively groan, that’s probably the line you’d hear most often.
But here’s an individual groan that we all hear all the time: “Why is nobody reading my email?”
You might hear it from human resources, or finance… maybe even from the IT help desk itself.
Sometimes, the reason why nobody’s reading your email is that people are already overloaded and they’ve missed your ray of sunshine among the 200 other beams of enlightenment they received that day.
However, the sad fact is the tidal wave of email that we deal with at our companies isn’t caused by evil outside forces. The problem is that too much email is an autoimmune disease, where the corporate body is harming itself.
Frankly, in many cases, employees have tuned out. When internal actors send out time-wasting, confusing, or unclear emails, it creates a learned behavior in employees: Ignore.
Resolving the Email Dilemma
Still, there is hope, if we have the discipline, and dare I say, courage, to change our behaviors, and — gulp — our bosses’ behaviors. So, let’s look at five common problems with company email, and find ways to fix those issues and communicate better with our colleagues.
Problem: Too much volume. Most people send too much email. We treat it like texting, when, of course, it isn’t. We send “thanks!” and “no problem!” one-liners. We dash off incomplete or unclear requests before thinking them through.
Fix: Cut the amount of email you send. In a fascinating case study from the Harvard Business Review, executives who reduced the amount of their outbound email reduced the entire company’s email dramatically and saved thousands of work hours every year. It makes sense: When bosses are not judicious in their use of email, we can expect that nobody else will be, either.
Problem: Wrong tool for the task. We all know people who send an email when a phone call is more appropriate. (Maybe you’re one of them?)
Fix: Pick up the phone. As a rule of thumb, if you’re dealing with a complex issue that may require clarification, discussion using a real-time chat tool like Slack or the telephone will greatly reduce the amount of low-quality, high-volume email. Another great rule of thumb: If you’ve gone back and forth more than twice in email, you know this was a topic that belonged in a real-time chat in the first place.
Problem: Your subject lines suck. Tools that help reduce email overload are super popular right now. Sanebox, for example, is the way that I quickly process the (literally) hundreds of email product pitches that I get every week. But, that means that, unless you’re on a VIP list or trained to a non-junk inbox (as most of your employees will likely not be), the only thing that employees see will be your headline.