Don’t Get Ignored
Long emails get pushed aside or ignored.
“One of the worst things in people’s careers is to be ignored.” Joseph McCormack, author of, “Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less.”
People form opinions of you based on the emails you send.
“It’s time to embrace the ‘less is more’ mandate. Before you inadvertently run long at your next meeting, in an e-mail or on a call, remember that your livelihood might take a direct hit when you can’t get to the point.” Joseph McCormack
Effective brevity is power.
How to annoy people with your emails (0:59):
5 email tips:
- Summarize the email in the subject line.
- One subject.
- One action item.
- One request.
- If it’s long, can you delete the first few sentences or paragraphs?
The power of clarity and brevity moves railroad cars. McCormack in his own words (1:59):
Joseph suggests that you apply Elmore Leonard’s rule of writing to your emails. “When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”
Joseph McCormack’s 4 tips for verbal communication:
- Map it – draw an outline or bubble chart before communicating.
- Tell it – start telling stories. People love a concise narrative that explains the 5 Ws (who, what, where, when and why).
- Talk it – become a conversationalist who listens more and talks less.
- Show it – use visuals that paint pictures. More than 70% of people are visual learners.
Buy a two minute hour glass timer for everyone on your team. Place it by your phones. If you talk more than two minutes, without letting others speak, it’s a monologue, not a conversation.
After two weeks, promote them to one minute timers. (Adapted from my conversation with Joseph)
What email tips do you have?
What are the components of effective verbal communication?
I was excited to talk with the guy who created the “Priceless” campaign for MasterCard.
Joe’s book, “Brief,” focuses on making bigger impact with verbal communication. But, during our conversation, we took a brief sidetrack to discuss email.
Dan, I really liked Joe’s book. In fact, I’m talking with him next week. The biggest lesson I learned with emails… I was preparing a senior leader to go into a big meeting with a COO to update them on my team’s project. I wanted her to be as prepared as possible so I kept sending her info in email.
She picked up the phone and called me. “Karin I’m sorting by your name in email and deleting everything that’s come from you. Now please write me an email that summarizes the issue in 5 bullet points (no attachments).
What a lesson.
Well said. In this age of fast and busy schedules and work pressure , people expect that we communicate briefly and effectively. This is an art we develop over a period of time. Long conversations and mails have no place today.
Thanks P.G. The problem is we only make things worse when we add to the deluge. The person who is clear and brief has a place in this world!
Saying things clearly yet very concisely was a requirement in the armed forces where every character of a signal was laboriously typed out for encryption. The discipline of writing was very important but the message had to sing out and were quickly absorbed. The introduction of email onboard ships resulted in much lengthier discussions – but I suspect the lack of brevity resulted in more confusion rather than less and certainly took time to read as well as to compose.
Thanks Ian. You bring up the important idea that longer communications can be more confusing than shorter. The idea is to speak long enough to be clear, but no longer.
Some types of people like to study all the details. Others like the highlights first and will ask questions if they want more. Talk to others the way they want to be talked to.
As an “explainer”, I have to be constantly aware that not everyone wants to understand the thought process and rationale, and that email is a lousy format for in-depth conversation anyway.
More tips: put the action item at the top, then a few details next, then the urgency last (From http://wgtdblog.com/how-to-write-from-the-readers-perspective/)
Thanks John. Know the style of the person you are communicating with… nice!
Dan, this is dead on for email and business communication in general, and I am often guilty of TMI myself. But there is a dark side to this brevity, scanning, “leave out the parts readers skip” culture and that is that we are training people to be UNABLE to read deeply. Many people — adults, not just youth — can no longer sit down and read Hesse or Dickens for content. And oh my gosh, if you can’t read for content — read and comprehend deeply — what happens to devices such as foreshadowing and satire?
Case in point: I published a piece of satire on my blog site as an Ides of March prank. Nearly every single person who read it skimmed over the surface, walking away with to key points. 1) Steve was making very bad choices, and 2) I had driven my company out of business. The point was precisely the opposite and I am still doing damage control.
This gets to appropriateness of communication. Yes, there are times we need to communicate in focused bites to stimulate action. But we need to be able to recognize when content requires deeper attention, and allow time read for comprehension. Deeper ideas often require deeper attention.
Thanks Steven. I hear you. I love a long conversation. Everything doesn’t have to be as brief as possible. Great point.
Yo D, nope!!!
People who get long emails who do not read them are rude.
Ok so hot to not be ignored…..don’t BE ignorable!! Pretty dog gone simple right??
Plus where is asking if I am ignored in the plan??
The Happy Now, Vision for the Future Plan?
Then the rest of the Plan!!
Spending each day to end it with epically cool answers to the Three Questions!!
They are as follows
Today did I
See Dan with those two thoughts and the three cool questions I am involved in fulfilling my Purpose!
Spending time getting closer to want I want, not focusing on what I don’t want!
I read every word of every personal email I get.
I figure somebody cared enough to want to say something to me and I will not disrespect them by not hearing them out.
I do not desire to be treated that way, so my only option is to not treat others that way!
Not reading others words they send to me is epically lame! I am a lot of things but epically lame aunt one of um!!!
Thanks Scott. People who send long emails to busy leaders are rude, ineffective, and out of touch.
I tell my friends, if I have to scroll through a personal email, I’m deleting it. Call me.
Dan nothing wrong with having a difference of opinion unless a person is a black and white thinker. Then they are uncomfortable a lot.
Maybe if busy Leaders did better at time management they would have time to give to their folks.
What if a blockbuster idea was at the end of an email but some seen lowly person did not get heard???????
Busy stupid leader dude would miss out!!
Now don’t take that personal just using an example.
Plus if one defines Leadership as in part giving their time to the tribe what message does it send to the follower when the message sent by the so called leader I got no time for what you think is important?
I been on the end of so called leaders with no time for their followers.
News flash, those people are not Leaders by the definition I follow.
Again Dan different opinion even though I feel it passionately points no disrespect in your personal direction.
Anyways I think different is COOL!!! All the folks who want to send me long emails….I love them!!
And people who write long comments to articles are also a bit … out of touch.
Great post, and I like the hourglass idea. For each and every email you write: When the email is ready to send, go back through it and cut wherever you can. Be brutal. The email will be shorter, stronger, and – best of all – readable.
Thanks Melissa. I’ve heard of the hour glass idea in some other contexts as well. For example, when someone walks in and says, “Got a minute?” Grab your 3 minute timer and say, “I have three.” 🙂
The courage to delete is wonderful. Cheers
I think this applies to sermons as well. I’m working on the interaction piece as well. Thanks.
Thanks Bigal. Someone said a sermon should have a good beginning and good ending and the two should be as close together as possible. (Not an exact quote)
Keeping in the spirit of the topic, here are my comments about the concept of brevity in communication:
Thanks again, Dan!
Thanks Gabrielle. Nicely done!
I recently got an extremely verbose email from our tech writer. I wrote him back and thanked him for writing the kind of email I write that explains everything and gives me a complete picture of the situation.
John, thanks for reminding us that some people like long emails filled with information. When I find someone like that, a great e-pen pal relationship inevitably forms. As someone who craves knowledge and loves even more to share it, I get surprised by people who are loath to learn something that requires more than a few guttural grunts to be understood.
That said, I have learned to trim my emails down to a few guttural grunts when communicating with the busy people at the top who have no time to learn. Yesterday I wrote a 500 word essay email about what I needed and why. Knowing it was going to be perceived as a burden, I highlighted all the sentences where I asked for help, bolded them, then removed everything else. It worked.
Thanks Dunk…love your comment. The “guttural grunts” comment was worth the whole thing! 🙂
Re: email. If you need to scroll, it may be too long.
Thanks Pete. I suppose the exception might be emails filled with technical information. But, I’m totally on board with the NO SCROLL RULE.
I tend to agree, longer emails are great once you have their attention and are working with a contact… but to initiate contact with a decision-maker or leader you need to write with bullet point precision to open that door.
Thanks David. You can’t minimize the importance of relationship and knowledge of the recipients preferred style of communicating.
Hi. Interesting perspective. I’m usually on the other end of the spectrum because I’ve run into too many situations where I’m asked to make a decision about something, which I do based on the information I’ve been given, and then I’m told it’s the wrong decision because there are all these other (unmentioned) factors to consider. So I try to be very thorough in my emails so that people have all the information that I perceive to be relevant. Perhaps, like many things, it’s a balancing act – figuring out when detail is required and when it gets in the way.
Thanks Deidre. I”m glad you joined in. I can also see the value of the “paper trail.”
In healthcare we use SBAR as a format. S=situation/subject (in a nutshell) B= background (provide quick detailed focused additional information) A= assessment (how you see it) R = request or response (What do you want from me?) It really helps make emails quick and easy to read and respond to.
Thanks Margarita. I hadn’t heard of the SBAR format. Love it. It seems it would be useful for organizations to adopt a standard structure for internal business emails.
I like this one. The problem sometimes, with brevity, is when people take it to the extreme, and give you a one word reply. It comes across as rude and disinterested.
Let me share what I learned about emailing.
At the beginning. The short story and what you want to happen. The conclusion. *Then*, the backstory. Parallel – when it’s non-fiction, there’s a table of contents.
Just as the driver who is annoyed (rightfully) when their navigator doles out the turns one at a time but is somehow unable to roughly give an overview at the beginning ‘where are we going’, who wouldn’t chafe when confronted with a wall of words that leads to…. where? That’s for mystery novels, not business.
yep – better say it in the first two sentances. Provide more support later, which they can choose to read or ignore. But if your summary is at the end, it likely will be ignored.
Just bought the book… I like the idea of keeping it short and sweet but I struggle choosing my words properly. Love the hourglass idea…
Discerning when and where to expand is tricky. Communication in general is an art form – not sure I agree that brevity is always best, it seems to be part of a culture of dumbing down.
In general the higher ups want simple info without the important/relationship stuff.
E-mails offer the formalities of a professional means of communicating as opposed to instant messaging which carries a convention that requires a back and forth on a more personal outlet. Other than that, it’s the same concept and adults complain that kids are always texting but are themselves eager to adopt the same concept.
It’s funny — when I saw the title, I thought I would be reading about myself…but it turns out I’m guilty of being the ignorer, too — not the ignored.
Alexa — http://www.newlywednotdead.com
I usually start my e-mails with:
I have three issues.
First, could I ask you to…” or I start with a ‘table of contents’.
The subject usually goes “Three issues” or the issues in short separated by //.
In that way I usually have all the email read, it seems.