PING. And there it is – like one of Pavlov’s dogs, my physical and emotional reaction begins. My heart sinks, the adrenaline starts flowing, my anxiety is increasing, and I’m dreading what comes next… The ping signals the arrival of new emails. Instinctively (almost unconsciously), I HAVE to check it out. It’s a compulsion. An obsession. A dilemma. Time for a call to action. We can be smarter about how we communicate. It will make us better business people and leaders, and it will liberate us from the effects of the ping.
Email doesn’t have to be the enemy. Everything doesn’t have to be done via email. In fact, everything can’t be done successfully via email. If you’re a golfer, you should be familiar with this: “If you can chip, don’t pitch. If you can putt, don’t chip.” The concept is simple. The longer your golf ball is off the ground and flying around in the air, the greater the chances are that something will go wrong with your shot. When you putt, your ball is on the ground the entire time, and you have far more control over it.
Email is a pitch shot. You hit send, and your email goes flying into the air with no ability for you to provide the tone or context or any additional meaning. People can take that email, just as the wind can take the golf ball, and inflict all kinds of unanticipated damage in the interpretation. In short, you lose complete control over your message. Plus, you are contributing to someone else’s ping anxiety when perhaps there was no need.
We can choose better ways to communicate. Here’s how:
DON’T send an email if the person you’re emailing is in the office right next to yours. And he or she is IN the office. Geez – just get off your chair and walk over to the person’s office. And be glad that you spared the recipient the ping and yourself the reply ping.
DON’T send an email if it’s something you really should be discussing or you know will have the inevitable effect of starting a dialogue avoiding. You do it. We’ve all done it. We sit there and say, “I really don’t want to talk to this person, so I will just send an email instead.” And what happens? You start a frustrating and seemingly never-ending email discussion. Have the hard conversation and spare everyone the onslaught of the ping.
DON’T send an email if you need to explain something in great detail. No one, and I mean NO ONE, wants to read an encyclopedia-length email. Do everyone a favor and show people how smart you are in person or over the phone. Then send a very short email (3 to 5 bullet points ROCK) summarizing the key points for future reference.
DO understand your purpose and your audience, and structure your email accordingly. Follow this simple structure guideline:
- If you were asked a question, start the email with the answer (WOAH – shocker!). Provide more information for the recipient to read at his/her leisure. Giving the answer up front gives the recipient what was requested in the first place. The education piece is a bonus.
- If you are making an ask, make the ask. Be up front and don’t make the recipient read a lengthy email to understand what it is you need or want.
- Use the subject line of the email to help recipients prioritize: “RESPONSE REQUESTED” or “URGENT” or “FYI ONLY.” If you start doing this, others just might catch on, and that will enable you to prioritize when you’re skimming at the end of the day and trying to figure out which items need your immediate attention.
If you really want to go out on a limb, do what I did a long time ago: turn the sound notifications off on your devices. If you are like me and you’re constantly checking your email throughout the day, then you don’t need a ping to trigger negativity. Just do your work, and you never need to hear the ping….