Archive for June, 2008

Assume they know already.

Friday, June 27th, 2008

I just received an email from an old friend, with a link to If I Did It on Amazon.  He asked me, “Can you believe this guy? What will the publishers think of next?”  I wondered if my friend had been in a coma for the last week.  Had he not read the reader responses (eg. “we did it!”)??

When something happens at Yahoo; the stock drops, a disgruntled exec writes a manifesto — I get the announcement through email up to a dozen times from well wishers.

Every day our email inbox gets cluttered with two kinds of spam: commercial spam and friendly fire.  Friendly fire is when you are buried with well-meaning but highly redundant content.  Even in our family we have one netcaster who sends us dozens of emails a week – we call him Uncle Spam.

We focus on reducing spam, yet become spammers ourselves when we play towne crier and send out dozens of emails/videos/etc. every day to our mailing list (often in CC, where anyone could reply to all and start a vicious cross-post).  Most of the time, we accompany it with “thought you’d like to know” and they usually just delete it (after it finally downloads on their black berrys at the airport).

Let all try a different approach.  If it is on the homepage of Yahoo in the news box, everybody knows.  Deal?  If it isn’t a piece of strategic information (your competitor is in play), lets err on the side of silence.

In the future our best email pals, like a good blogger, will surprise us with useful insights that we haven’t already been exposed to.   Hopefully we’ll learn from them and start to give our email partners in life “good return on attention” and be part of the solution instead of the problem.   It’s good to be a maven, we just have to give people more credit.

Recommended read:  Simplicity by Bill Jensen

On the go? Answer emails with a phone call.

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

I read an article recently about a new work related illness — Black Berry Thumb.


I could see this one coming.  There are millions of people that are as obsessive compulsive as church rats when it comes to their emails.  Six or seven years ago before mobile email, you hit the F5 (function 5) button fifty times a day to check your email.  And for what?

People that carry Crackberry’s around and use them to immediately answer all comers write the worst replies, often cryptic and full of spelling and punctuation errors.  And according to this article, they end up with an injury to boot.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to know when an important message is out there (on email, voice mail, etc.).  I’m not saying to be out of touch.  What you need to do is find balance and write mobile email communications as a last resort.  You should only respond to emails that need an immediate answer when you are in transit.  The way I do this is simple;  I treat my Crack Berry as read only.  If I see an email that needs my immediate attention, I call that person on my cell.  First of all, it is way quicker, especially if the answer needs to have some sophistication (they all do).

In rare occasions (maybe 10% of the time), I can email back a word like “approved”.  But most of the time I read and respond by phone.

Try this approach out next week and give your thumbs (and other people brains) a rest.

PS– You should also respond to emails with a phone call when someone is upset (poor service, misunderstanding, etc.).  It will surprise them that 30 seconds after they hit the send button you called them to deal with it.  It will also help you communicate your intentions via your audible tone of voice.

What ever you do, don’t live like a rat in a cage on an endless thread.  How do you answer emails on the go?

Obey Email Preferences

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

If you want to have a productive relationship, especially with someone of power, obey their preferences when it comes to email.

I learned this lesson at a critical point of my life at Yahoo.  Anil Singh ran Yahoo’s sales and marketing groups for years and was the guru of numbers.  He is a brilliant and powerful man, and everybody wanted to work for him.  So he was pummeled with information, most of it useless.  I wrote him an opus about a meeting I attended with a huge prospective partner.   The next day, from his cube, he pointed to me and motioned me into his space.

“Look at all this reading material”, he opened.  He was sitting in a mountain of documents, charts and bound reports.

“You should be able to fit any email message into my preview pane.  Otherwise, come see me or call.”

I immediately realized that I could be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.  Anil is a “preview pane” guy that wants pithy, to the point requests and answers to his emailed questions.  For anything complicated, he liked warmer levels of contact (email cold, face to face real warm).  I honored that request from that day forward and it made a huge difference in my relationship with him.  When I went to work for Greg Coleman and later Wenda Millard, I learned their email preferences right away and stuck to them.  This is a little known secret about how to handle brand new relationships at work.  If you make this as important as knowing their birthday or their favorite football team — you will go far in your BizLife.  Most people will not tell you like Anil told me.  That was good luck, a gift.  To obey, you first need to ask about the rules.

Dr. Tony Alessandra coined the phrase, “The Platinum Rule”.  Whereas the Golden Rule says that you reflect your preferences on others (which would suck for them if you are self-destructive), the Platinum Rule says, “do unto others as they want to be done unto!”.

Yep, that’s right.   New email law:  obey preferences.

Editors Note: Thanks to Scott Zimmerman, Managing Partner at Platinum Rule Group for setting us straight on where the Platinum Rule came from.

Don’t write War and Peace over email.

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

More than ever, less is more when it comes to words in our email Inbox. Did you know that the average information worker (like you and me) reads the equivalent of a novel every two days?  And we read it at lightening speed, scanning it in from a computer screen.  Sometimes it is not the volume of emails that we drown in, but the density of some of the notes we get from our colleagues.

When someone writes an email to us that would be ten pages long printed out, we just close the email and say to ourselves, “I’ll read that when I have time.” 

The person sending it to you took a great deal of time to write it.  You don’t want to swim through it and it takes forever to finally deal with it.  This is not good for your relationship or the purpose of the email in the first place. 

Today, simple is the new smart – especially at work.  For some companies simplicity (in Customer and employee interactions) is a competitive advantage.  Part of simplicity is the reduction of information aimed at a target.  Fewer words = a better experience for them in communicating with you which = more future attention.  Email is far from simple when it comes to conveying complex ideas, emotions and intentions.  You would have to write dozens of paragraphs to convey the subtle nuisances of a phone or face-to-face conversation. 

Yet, many of us rely too much email to conduct conversations.  It’s like we are hiding behind our laptop letting our flying fingers do our talking.  When you find that the body of your email cannot fit into the preview pane (Outlook) or a computer screen, pick up the phone and talk to them about it.  Academic researchers to technical writers all agree that the shortest distance between two minds is a live conversation.  Nothing beats it.

NOTE:  This is usually, but not always the case.  I like to establish communication preferences with people when I first start to work with them.  How do you want me to contact you, phone or email?  Do you like short emails with more detailed stuff in phone calls or do you want it all in a note?  It is conversation worth having and will improve your business relationship.   

For more information on how simplicity is a new competitive advantage in business, read Bill Jensen’s brilliant book Simplicity

Turn off the digital chatter and save your sanity (at work)

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Blog reader (and good friend) Seth Dechtman pointed me to an interesting article (Lost In Email) from the New York Times that talks about how companies are trying to tackle information overload and constant interruptions at work.

These companies are smart to deal with this issue. My own research confirms that overload combined with the constant interruption of incoming emails makes work more stressful and leads to depression and lost productivity (The NEDS Study).

What can you come up with to help your company break free from the shackles of always on? Post your replies in comments.

Check out the New York Times article (Lost In Emal)

Audit an email relationship

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Sometimes you can turn a great working relationship into a broken one over email.

Think about how many emails you exchange with your partners at work. Take, for example, the last fifty emails you’ve sent your right hand person (if you have one). If you isolated them, and just read what you wrote, should you be proud?

I challenge you to audit the last fifty emails you’ve sent to a trusted business partner. Read them for tone, intension, friendliness, reasonableness and crypticness. Imagine you received them, all in a pile over just a week or so. How would you feel? Are you coming across as a coach or a dictator?

If you do this exercise, you’ll realize that email is really a poor way to say no or talk about emotionally charged things. The phone truly the next best thing to being there.

Be present for your next meeting!

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Here’s a simple piece of advice: Attend your next meeting device-free.

There was a provocative LA Times article about going lap-topless to meetings. While I like that idea, I think it doesn’t stretch nearly far enough. Don’t bring a cell phone, laptop, crack berry, anything! Bring a pen, paper and your attention. Why? Because you’ll have a more effective meeting and build relationships.

When I was conducting surveys in researching The Likeability Factor, I learned that the #2 reason your coworkers or customers might find you dishonest is your lack of presence during meetings. Your constant attention diversion to your cell, email pager or laptop sends a message to everyone that you are not with them, and don’t respect them enough to give your undivided attention.

This rule (no phones, laptops or email pagers in the meeting) is the bonus rule at the end of my new DVD product (The Dirty Dozen Rules Of Email Etiquette).

Getting the last word in over email…

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Here’s another installation in my rules of email etiquette: Don’t reply to say “thanks”.

One of my basic rules of email is to let the thread (the back and forths) stop. Don’t get in the last word, even if it is “thanks”.

You are working on a spreadsheet (and consulting paper) and your Outlook envelope starts to flash and you stop what you are doing to check your email. A coworker replied, “thx” on their crack berry — you had emailed them a report yesterday. You peck hard on the delete button, sigh, and toggle back to the spreadsheet.

Multiply that interruption times five a day and you now understand the plight of the over-pinged information worker. One more interruption is still one more irritation. In my study on NEDS (New Economy Depression Syndrome), I quoted Heartmath Research Institute talking about how interruption was as bad as overload, when it came to creating information stress.

Let’s be kind and let the digital conversations die with the successful transaction. The next time someone sends you what you ask for or answers your question — tell her thanks in person the next time you see her. For now, give her a break so she can finish her spreadsheet and go home.

PS — This counts 1000% for reply-to-all thanks.  When someone hits reply-to-all and says that one word, a  batch of chatter erupts as others feel compelled to say thanks too.  Those will drive you crazy and sometimes create a vicious cross post, leading to a dozen other RE RE RE RE email interruptions in your life.

Don’t email your people while they are on vacation!

Monday, June 9th, 2008

When one of your biz partners (employee, vendor, coworker) is on his or her annual summer vacation – do them a favor and leave them alone!

When I worked at Yahoo, I put my employee’s vacation days into my calendar to remind me to leave them off threads or BCC/CCs. When there was an email that they would eventually need to see or be copied on (when they got back), I would part it in the draft folder, then send all of them the day they returned.

The research I conducted for my Email Etiquette training program indicates that a person would rather get twenty emails first thing on Monday, coming back from time off, than twenty emails spread out over their vacation.

Why? When you send emails to people on vacation, they feel the need to check their email more often, respond to you and get engaged again with work. This destroys the healing process of time off and is quite inconsiderate on your part.

Great managers and business partners let their people take real time off. No chatter, CYA-FYI junk, just pure time off. After all, you wouldn’t call his or her cell phone twenty times while they were on vacation!

Check out more ideas on better email behavior at: Email A to Z

Empty your inbox

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

A few months ago, I was interviewing Raytheon’s CEO Bill Swanson for my new book.

Along the way, he shared a one of his habits with me that blew my mind: He empties his Inbox every day. No email goes unanswered. Moreover, he’s made himself available to most employees that need to voice concern or make suggestions. That is an impressive feat, I don’t know if I’ve ever emptied my email Inbox completely.

The reason he does that is because he considers it a part of professionalism and accountability. He’s probably right. By letting emails stack up, we prioritize some messages over others and often ignore some completely. If we commit ourselves to an empty Inbox, we may also recover our weekends as well as control over our email life. You can imagine that Bill gives tough love feedback to repeat email offenders that fill his Inbox will unnecessary information. If you adopt this policy, you may have to use Bill Jensen’s CLEAR system (read my post about it).

I’m going to attempt an empty Inbox for the next business week, which of course means that first I need to plow through about three dozen unanswered emails!

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