Imagine a world in which global email communication abruptly ceases to function. The resulting full-blown catastrophe would leave no stone unturned. Its immediate consequences might well outscore those of the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
The widespread of email has revolutionized workplace communication. Employees are able to send and receive messages instantaneously, transcending geographical boundaries. In addition, emails serve as a storage solution for documentation and record-keeping, offering integration with a variety of workplace tools.
If you're like me, you've probably encountered redundant email exchanges revolving around a single subject, when it could have been one solid email. Many of us, including myself, spoiled with the speed and convenience of emails, sometimes do not pay much attention to clarifying our messages in emails. It is not a surprise why some people find emails could actually hinder precise communication and waste our time. Cal Newport, in his book A World Without Email argues that emails can quickly overload our inbox, only making us miserable. I cannot disagree with him on that.
Recently, a colleague forwarded me a very insightful article. It was written by an ex-army, explaining how we can dramatically improve our email communication with the skills he learned from the military. It is true that in the military, precision in communication, whether done in-person or digitally, determines a mission's destiny. We can take advantage of their wisdom and apply it to our email communication not only to save time but also to improve our productivity.
In this post, I would like to rephrase some points the author laid out. Be Straightforward with the Subject Line
On any given day, we may receive tens of emails or more in an hour. We try to go through them but we might end up losing some important messages in the overflowing inbox.
The subject line and the sender's name are the two things we see first when we scan our inboxes. If the subject line is clear and straightforward, it automatically catches our attention. In addition, when the subject line carries important keywords such as expected action from the recipient, we are more likely to respond to it in a timely manner.
Here are some of the examples of subject lines:
ACTION: The recipient must take some action
SIGN: The recipient's signature is required
DECISION: The recipient's decision is required
REQUEST: Seeks permission/approval by the recipient
INFO: For informational purposes only, and there is no action required
COORD: Coordination by or with the recipient is needed
Note that the keywords are in capital. This is intentional to deliver the very essence of the message straightforwardly. When your recipient sees this, he/she instantly grasps the purpose of your emails.
Include Bottom Line
Sometimes we get to write lengthy emails. The thing is, when we write, we easily lose our focus and might even digress. When this happens, our recipient would only be left confused.
Think of this as providing a single sentence of summary. Right after the greeting, start with your bottom line then lay out details. In a way, this is like a traditional journalism piece: Like an inverted triangle, you provide the most important information in the beginning. Here is a fictional example:
Subject: INFO - Changed Meeting Times in October
Hi Janice: If you have any questions, please let me know.
Bottom Line: We will change our weekly meeting time to every Thursday at 1 p.m. due to time conflicts. Background:
The ongoing project needs to be completed urgently so we need to focus on this in the morning time.
In addition, there are a couple of big events held on Mondays in October, so we need to change our meeting to Thursdays.
In this example, the subject line states 'INFO', implying that the recipient, (in this case, Janice), does not need to respond. Simple, Short, and Sweet
The author also advises to use active voice instead of passive voice. In the active voice, the subject is performing an action. In the passive voice, however, the action's target comes first as the primary focus of the sentence. While neither is inherently better than the other, we need to think about which one would clarify our message better.
Active voice conveys a straightforward and unambiguous tone, making it a better choice for email communication. Using active voice enables recipients to concentrate on the subject of your sentences and the actions themselves, rather than the target of the action.
Another point worth considering is the length of your email. In general, short emails are usually more effective. If an email needs detailed explanations, try to list them in bullet points to reduce any unnecessary connectors. Just like what Cal Newport suggested in his book A World Without Email, maybe a phone call or even a brief in-person visit could be so much more effective timewise.
Original Article: https://hbr.org/2016/11/how-to-write-email-with-military-precision