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?