The Initial Email
Let’s first discuss who should be included in your distribution list. For making this decision, here is what I recommend. For the individual(s) you are directing the message to, state right up front the purpose of the email and/or the action you are requesting of them. Then you can write the details explaining the reasons behind your stated purpose.
I have not spoken with very many people that tell me how much they enjoy reading long and wordy emails. In many cases, they simply stop reading before getting to the request. Sometimes the request is buried in the main body of the writing and is not recognized by the reader. Or maybe the reader did not recognize that the request was meant for him/her. There is a good chance you recall reading these types of emails. Here is an example of what I am recommending:
Suzanne Jones of ACME Coyote Company in Phoenix is having a problem configuring the product we delivered to their Grand Canyon location. She needs you to have one of your Solution Engineers give their technician a call today, no later than 5:00 PM Mountain Time. The following are the details and contact information. Please let me know when this has been accomplished.
This email is right to the point. Tom knows the reason for the email, the action required, and the level of urgency. Tom did not have to read through the history of the situation and everything that occurred to finally learn what is required of him.
Replying To The Email
Possibly due to the importance of this customer or some other reason, there may have been several people cc’d on the email that was sent to Tom. The author of the original email believed it was important to include those individuals. Let’s say that there were five people cc’d. Tom needs to determine if all those cc’d need to be included in his reply email. Here are some guidelines Tom will use to make this determination:
Does he know the roles of each cc’d person?
- If not, leave those individuals on the reply, as they may have importance he is not aware of.
- If yes, is there an action needed from any of those individuals?
- If yes, include them on the “reply to” distribution list.
- If not, remove them from the list.
The individuals that have been removed from the “reply to” distribution list who are not in a ‘need to know’ every detailed position related to the situation will greatly appreciate being removed. As you may have experienced many times, one email with five people “replying to all” quickly grows to a great number of emails. For those who do not need to be part of the actions requested, this will become an annoying situation.
Keeping the email confined to only those who have an action or a need to know will minimize conflicting recommendations, unhelpful questions, and keep the focus on the task.
Back And Forth
My recommended rule is that if an email discussion goes back and forth three times, it is time to make a phone call. At the least, schedule a phone call. At this point, it is obvious there is confusion or more information is required. A single conference call involving the relevant participants will provide everyone with an opportunity to pose questions and receive accurate answers. Email is not a tool for having an important conversation, it is a tool for disseminating information, asking questions, and getting answers.
If It Can Be Misinterpreted, It Will Be Misinterpreted
Carefully read your email before hitting the Send key. If you think there is a possibility that your message will be misinterpreted, you have the opportunity to change the message to avoid a misunderstanding. It will be well worth the extra seconds or minutes to prevent an error or potential communication crisis.
ALL CAPS – STOP SHOUTING AT ME
WRITING IN ALL CAPS IS VIEWED BY THE RECIPIENT AS BEING YELLED AT. Using all caps should be relegated as a topic header and never used in the body of the email. And for sure, don’t use all caps bolded in the body of the email. Yikes! If that is necessary, it is time to have a face-to-face meeting.
Your signature block should always include your phone number. Why? Because if your email recipient wants to call you, they won’t need to hunt for your number. Related, when replying to an email, many signature blocks are not included with your reply. In this case, you should embed your phone number in the body of the email. “If you want to call me, I can be reached at 555-555-5555.” Or simply type your phone number below your name at the bottom of the message.
A well-crafted email will provide you with the best chance of having successful communication. I am very interested in hearing from you. Let me know what you would add to this topic, what you found most helpful, and even what you disagree with. You can send me a message at:
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