ACTION REQUIRED: Read my email PLEASE! (Part 2)

In my most recent post, I addressed an issue plaguing those of us who communicate by email – incomplete responses or the failure to respond at all.  In that post three experts shared their advice on how to improve the emails. If you’re following all the great advice, and the problem persists, what do you do?  I called those same three experts – Alesia Latson, Bob Whipple and Stever Robbins, and asked them:  “If e-mail senders follow your advice and e-mail recipients do not respond fully or respond at all, what else can you do?”

Experts Weigh In on E-mail Responsiveness

Here’s what they suggested:

Alesia Latson (Co-Author of More Time for You):

  • Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Assume positive intent.  All that happened is that you didn’t get a response – don’t make up any other story about what that means about you or them.  It means nothing in and of itself.    Simply follow up with a call or another message.  After 3 attempts drop it or escalate if appropriate.
  • Avoid long lists of things for people to do – it’s too confrontational and adds to their sense of being overwhelmed.  Keep it to two action items maximum per requests.
  • Try an opt in.  Say something like, “If I don’t hear from you in the next day or so – then I’ll assume that you’re ok with it,” or “I’ll follow-up with a phone call if we don’t connect via e-mail.”

Bob Whipple (author of Understanding E-body Language):

  • Establish ground rules within a group, including timing for response, and hold each other accountable.  Be aware that Gen Y and Gen X (think anyone under 35) are less likely to respond to email.  This is getting to be a corporate problem.
  • Try to keep emails readable in the preview pane (assuming it’s horizontal) – the start of the signature block should be visible on the first page.  It creates a psychological incentive to read the note. A note that goes “over the horizon” is often deleted before being read.
  • Keep emails simple – so they can be read and internalized in 15-30 seconds.
  • Note the pattern of communication for the person you are trying to reach.  Reach the person in the way s/he is most likely to respond.  It may not be email.

Bob also suggested looking at his articles – I did, and there are a lot more ideas listed.

Stever Robbins (author of Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload):

  • Assume they have too much email, and pick up the phone (you’ll be one of the few).
  • You may be being marginalized – poke around and find out what’s going on. If there’s no trusted person you can ask, then you may have your answer.
  • Learn the most important agenda of the person you are communicating with, and reframe to his/her agenda, rather than yours.

Applying Trusted Advisor Models

These are all great suggestions.  And there are some common themes:

  • Start from the other person’s perspective.  Each of the experts emphasized considering the recipient’s situation in reading and responding, rather than your own situation in needing a response.  This concept is the first of the powerful Trust Principles.

That is, focus on the other for the other’s sake, and determine how that person can and will actually receive and act on the message, and consider how to frame your message so it becomes important for that person to respond.

  • Pay attention to your own credibility.  If you are being marginalized, as Stever Robbins suggests as something to look at, perhaps there are things you can do to improve.
  • By assuming positive intent of the recipient, we are less focused on ourselves.  If we think “why didn’t she get back to me?” that could be an indication of high self-orientation, the denominator of the Trust Equation.   This type of thinking is a trap that makes it difficult to find a solution to a responsiveness issue, because instead, you are looking for someone to blame.

We’ve heard from the experts – now it’s your turn.  What have you tried that has worked?

ACTION REQUIRED: Read my email PLEASE! (Part 1)

Have you ever sent out an email like this?

Subject: Prep for client mtg next week and one-on-one mtg times

To prepare for our meeting, would each of you please provide:

  1. Your updated bio
  2. Any agenda items in addition to those listed below
  3. Let me know your availability for a one-on-one meeting anytime Mon-Thurs next week.

Are you happy with your response rates?  My guess is—you’re not.

Banging My Head Against the Wall

A friend recently shared his thoughts on the lack of responses to his emails.  He likened it to “banging my head against the wall”.

He said he wrote short, simple sentences, highlighting key action items, providing his phone number for calls. His results?  “Nobody reads what I wrote—and nobody calls.”

As a result, he found himself wondering things like: “Am I wasting their time? Are they so busy they can’t read my message? Is it that they don’t respect me? Or the message? Don’t they care? Have they done some calculation about the risk or cost of not answering me? Would they answer it if it came from their boss?

I can relate.  And I bet you can too.

Email Overload?

Are people really so overloaded that they can’t respond to a simple note?   The term “email overload” garners 438,000 hits on Google.  But there are other causes – too busy, not focused, unavailable, ignored on purpose, have nothing to say yet, to mention a few.  Take your pick.  We don’t really know why people don’t respond, or ignore certain portions of emails.

There’s a plethora of advice on sending and handling incoming email, some of which was discussed in Think Before Sending.  But there is very little on how to get your business (not outgoing marketing) emails read.  I decided to see what the experts say–and then ask you to weigh in.

Alesia Latson – More Time for You

I recently attended a great presentation by Alesia Latson, co-author of More Time for You. She had advice on addressing email overload; her favorite button on the keyboard is “delete”.   She’s not alone.  Her book and talk included how to sift through the important and urgent emails, and make sure that as recipients we weren’t missing something that had to be done.  Recently, I asked her how the sender could increase the odds that the recipient might actually read and act on the email.  Here are a few of her suggestions:

  • State “Action Required” in the subject line
  • Ask your colleagues what will get their attention
  • Keep it short
  • Put a date on when responses/actions are required and by whom

Robert Whipple – Understanding E-Body Language

Then I read Robert T. Whipple’s book  Understanding E-Body Language – Building Trust Online, and his article But I Sent an E-mail on That Last Week.   This book has a lot of suggestions on managing email, but only a few on getting them read.  The main point involves not being an email pest.  That’s a sure way to be ignored.  Here are some of the article’s great ideas.

  • Avoid long and complex emails
  • Follow up with a face-to-face (meeting or a call)
  • Add additional modes of communication besides email
  • Use clear formatting

Stever Robbins – Tips for Mastering Email Overload

A Harvard Business School article from 2004 by Stever Robbins, Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload, also had some good ideas.   Here are just a few of his suggestions:

  • Use a summarizing, rather than descriptive, subject line (e.g. use “Recommend we ship product April 25” rather than “deadline discussion”)
  • Orient the reader by giving enough context and background – don’t make them wade through numerous past emails
  • When sent to multiple people, tell each person specifically what you want from her/him
  • Send a separate message instead of using bcc
  • Separate topics into separate emails

These are all great ideas, and should help a lot.  But what do you do when you have followed much of this advice and your emails still go unheeded?  Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I will ask the same three experts this question.  Meantime, what do you think?