16th August, 2017

The majority of people have an internal filter that prevents them from exclaiming ‘What a massive beard!’ at people on the train, or ‘You are the most annoying person I have ever met!’ to the poor soul manning the tax helpline.  We may think those things, but we know better than to verbalise them.  Unfortunately, it appears that this in-built filter doesn’t exist in relation to emails; how many times have you received a ‘pointless’ email from a friend, customer or colleague – something that could have been communicated far quicker via phone (or by walking over to someone’s desk if they are working in the same office as you!) or an email that contained a request that could have quickly and easily been carried out by the sender? Or, even worse, have you sent an email like that?! I’m sure that most of us are guilty of that crime, even if we try to think carefully about the correspondence we send out.

If you are a little concerned about whether you lack an appropriate ‘email filter’, I’ve put together 3 golden rules that I like to try to apply to each email or instant message that I send, so thought I’d share them with you.

1.) If I’m asking a question – could I answer it too? It’s all too easy to skim read an email and ‘jump the gun’ with a question that you could easily answer yourself with a little more careful thought, especially if it is a long and detailed email or refers to a string of previous correspondence.  When this is the case, I try to give myself 5 minutes before pressing ‘send’ to see whether, following a careful re-read of the email and a little more time to process the information contained within, I really need to ask that question.  If a question has passed the 5-minute test, I will send it.

From an email writer’s perspective, I try to avoid the majority of questions from email recipients by making sure that as much relevant information is mentioned in the email as possible, or highlighting important parts of the content if the recipient prefers to work in this way (it might be worth checking though - I once had a customer who phoned me, extremely upset, complaining about the fact that they had received an email from a colleague that had sections emphasised in bold text…).

2.) Would it be easier to discuss this verbally? In an age of instant messages, it is often easier to put together a quick email or message, even when you are discussing something complicated or sensitive.  Simple as it is to go for days on end without physically speaking to anyone, picking up the phone can be a very useful exercise.  No need to worry about language being misinterpreted (or bold font being perceived as aggressive), or about dozens of emails being ‘pinged’ back and forth as questions are clarified; a good conversation on the phone can reinforce a positive relationship with a customer or contact, and remind remote, lone workers that there really are other people out there in the great wide world, even if you rarely see them!

3.) What would Bear Grylls do? The topic of one of my blogs last year, and one of my favourite questions to ask myself when the considerations above fail me… Bear Grylls – adventurer and survival expert, and all round no-nonsense bloke – is, I’m sure, the perfect email user.  Given that the man is probably more at home wearing a home-made seal wetsuit and sucking the insides out of grubs than catching up with admin in a brightly lit office, I feel confident in my assumption that he would never, ever send a pointless email.  Inane chit-chat, pointless questions, vague answers – these are things that Bear Grylls would never send (or at least, that is what I like to believe!).  As a result, before I send any email, even if it seems to have passed the 2 rules above, I subject my correspondence to one final question: ‘What would Bear Grylls do?’ If an email is clear, concise and valuable to the recipient, I can happily press ‘send’ without fear, otherwise, it’s back to the drawing board!

So before you send an email this week, why not try applying my golden rules? Hopefully, together we can work to reduce the number of pointless emails floating around, and make the world a slightly more productive and efficient place to work!


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