We’re overrun with the stuff: More than 183 billion emails are sent every day. That averages out to more than 42 emails received daily by each email address in the world.
And what about productivity? Unless you’re a customer service agent responding to questions, most business professionals don’t consider “managing their inbox” as one of their primary duties. Nearly half (45 per cent) of employee time is spent performing primary duties, while the second most common business activity is managing email—14 per cent of the time.
One-on-one emails are the backbone of workplace communications. Unlike email marketing campaigns, one-on-one emails are intended for a private exchange among a small audience. Emails to team members, a few partners, or a manager are all considered “one-on-one” emails.
There has never been a better time to hone our email crafting skills. Despite the rise in collaborative workplace technology over the last several years, email continues to be the primary mode of communication: a whopping 91 per cent of enterprise teams prefer to use email over any other communication method (“planned meetings” are a distant second at 68 per cent).
We spend a lot of time reading, writing, and responding to emails, so why not brush up on one of the most critical business skills? Here are 15 steps to cut through the inbox noise, get people to open (and read) emails, and spur action outside the mailbox.
When we send an email, it creates noise by participating and competing with others’ noise in a recipient’s inbox.
Consider how you feel every time you receive an email. Maybe you tense up at the thought of yet another to-do item. In the words of writer and comedian Stephen Fry, “It is exhausting knowing that most of the time the phone rings, most of the time there's an email, most of the time there's a letter, someone wants something of you.”
When we reduce the volume, we reduce the amount of time spent in our inbox and allow more time to actually get stuff done. (And we save a little bit of our mental processing for the hard work, too: One study found it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back into a state of focus after an interruption.)
1. Save the urgent matters for outside the inbox. We feel chained to our email because we treat it like the place to catch a hot potato—and others expect we’re checking our email all the time. “Did you see my email?” is not an uncommon question within the hours after delivery. Let your contacts know you’re happy to follow up on urgent matters through different channels such as a phone call or text.
2. Use tools that reduce unnecessary back-and-forth responses. Get the real work done outside the inbox. A number of collaboration tools (including Salesforce’s Chatter tool) help team members work in a focused environment. Contacts, documents, and conversations can be stored in one location for future reference.
This is the most critical component to close the deal (and also the part that will take the most finesse).
11. Empathize. In addition to being a generally good human skill to have, empathizing helps you relate to others and, in return, feel camaraderie with teammates. Communicate that you understand a recipient’s current situation when making “the big ask.” Acknowledge that you understand they’re under a tight deadline, their budget is restricted, or they do not have enough staff members to help.
12. Empower. It may be tempting at times to simply delegate tasks, but delegating without buy-in can make recipients feel divested in the outcome of your initiative. Increase the likelihood of a follow-up by explaining the people reading your emails are an important part of something bigger. Make sure they understand the why.
13. Entice. Answer this question before it’s even asked: “What’s in it for me?” The bigger the ask, the more you will need to explain the positive outcome if the recipient takes action. When you give someone what they want, chances are you earn their trust and they feel more inclined to return the favour.
14. Note the tone. The tone sets the stage for your frame of mind in making the request. Coming across with a negative tone can put people on the defensive or lead them to avoid taking action on your email request. Watch out for phrases that can be read as potentially sarcastic, insensitive, passive-aggressive, or patronizing. Read your email out loud. Even better, read it to a trusted confidant for feedback.
15. Stay on message. Start and end every email with one objective in mind. Re-read your email and edit aggressively to ensure your message and ask are clear. Articulate and re-articulate your request a few times if necessary.
Crafting compelling one-on-one emails is a communication skill worth honing. A well-written email will clarify, motivate, earn trust, and drive action—ultimately transforming you into a better leader and your business into a more effective organization.