The two most important words to begin your e-mail

eEmail with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook
Creative Commons License photo credit: Robert Scoble

E-mail is the workhorse of corporate communications. It is how many of us receive our “to-do’s” from our manager and team, the way we clarify what needs doing, and how we collaborate on teams.

E-mail is also one of the least effective communication mediums on the planet.

E-mail as routine communications, not a personal branding tool

The problem with e-mail is that we don’t view it as a something that brands us in our work. What I mean by this is that we simply receive e-mails, respond to them and never think through what the e-mail is saying about us and our work.

Take a look at the first ten e-mails you write after you read this article. Do they simply ask and respond based on your work? Or do they get modified to make sure that what the e-mail is saying is how you are perceived as an employee or coworker? If a Board member, for example, were to read your e-mail, would the Board member see a professional employee doing the right stuff in the e-mail? Or a pithy pundit who is smacking down the company and its policies?

We use e-mails to debate issues and not clarify positions

I had a job once where we were implementing a new software program to replace the current customer system we were using. And the new software tool wasn’t working. At all. A disaster to foist upon every person working in the division, like it or not.

I was pretty strong in my belief that we shouldn’t continue to implement it. With three page e-mails every day on why the system would not work. I basically bludgeoned my manager for weeks on end with long e-mails on how crappy the new system was — that he selected, of course — during development and testing.

Wrong tool. Wrong length. And a great way to develop a really poor personal brand.

Begin to write e-mail to show your professionalism

I have this little saying that says “What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet.” E-mail is like that because e-mail is not only read, but can also be forwarded anywhere, printed and copied — and used in court cases at trials as evidence.The problem with most e-mail is we don’t take fifteen seconds to structure it in a way that shows our professionalism, promotes what we want to personally show our coworkers, and how we want our manager to perceive our work. We just write. And that’s wrong.

Do you want to start using e-mail to show your professionalism, your follow through and show that you deliver your work? When you start your e-mail to give the answer you said you would give, start building your personal brand with these two words:

“As promised,…”

10 Responses to The two most important words to begin your e-mail

  1. Zack Pike says:

    This is an interesting way to look at it… And I completely agree. I, as so many others, have struggled with effective email communication… The problem is that many of us don’t even know we’re being ineffective. Your point on looking at email as a personal branding mechanism is perfect. When you think of it in those terms, it’s easy to understand the value in “thinking” before you hit the send button.

    • Scot Herrick says:

      And another tip in the comments here — start your e-mail with asking what you want the person (or team) to do with it so when they are reading the rest of it they can follow your logic for what you are asking them to do. If it is “make a decision,” then start the e-mail with “Action required: Approve (or not) X.” Then the rest of it can be about why the person should approve it (or not).

      E-mail is filled with hidden to-do’s, real or imagined. Take the imagination out of the e-mail and state the purpose of the e-mail up front. It is much more effective.

  2. This is a very differnent way to look at things but a great perspective. I *almost* always re-read my emails but I very much like the advice to start with the request so the reader then has a reason to read thoroughly.

    Another nice trick is to set your email to delay sending a few minutes. Then you can catch many of those “oops, forgot to include the attachment” followup emails.

  3. Robespierre says:

    Not every e-mail is based on the promise/delivery model. You may be referring to e-mails back and forth between you and your boss. In that instance, your advice is good. Of course, your boss may start wondering about you if you preface every single e-mail with “As promised.” He may think you’ve reverted to an unbalanced state and call in the men in their little white coats, or at the very least, someone who makes a lot of promises.

    Of course, people e-mail each other – coworkers, audiences, the boss, services, inquiries – dozens of times a day on all kinds of subject matter. In your “perfect world,” maybe e-mails would be simplistic, stultifying statements that ask and respond only referring to your work. But I can’t imagine prefacing each one with “As promised.”

    Marie Antoinette promised cake, but when she didn’t deliver the confection in question “as promised,” she lost her head. Let’s hope the e-mail world isn’t as brutal.

    • Scot Herrick says:

      Well, I didn’t say to start every e-mail with “As promised,” but only those where you were supposed to deliver something and the e-mail is the delivery.

      The point is to answer your e-mails using some thought to how your e-mail will be received by the other person – it should represent how you want to be perceived. Even the back and forth ones should represent that and not just a simple whatever-I-feel-like response. The e-mail represents you. Make sure it does.

  4. Heidi Stenning says:

    I very much agree and am constantly shocked when I read emails that contain spelling mistakes. There seems to be an acceptance that email is a much less informal form of communication but given that the majority of our days are spent communicating in a work environment, nothing could be further from the truth. Please people, learn there, they’re, their and your and you’re….

    • Scot Herrick says:

      And that is before you get to the substance of you e-mail. If you can’t get passed formatting correctly…

    • LMStephens says:

      …I think you meant to say that “email is viewed as a much less FORMAL form or communication…” If it were viewed as less INFORMAL, then spelling mistakes would be a bad thing.

  5. Kirk Baumann says:

    Love this. We all depend on email a lot more than we should. Instead of bantering back and forth (or bickering), why not pick up the phone and call the person? Better yet, can you resolve the issue, get clarification, or ask the question in person?

    I see this all the time – people depend on email as THE form of communication. It’s simply a supplement, not replacement for traditional communication. Calling someone or talking to them in person can alleviate any misunderstanding that email could potentially cause.

    Also, when you DO have to email, ask yourself this: What message are you sending?

    Great post – keep up the good work!

    Kirk Baumann
    Director of Career Connections
    SIFE USA – http://www.sife.org
    Blog: http://www.campus-to-career.com

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