It’s Only Common Sense: The Incredible Exploding Email!
by Dan Beaulieu
Has this ever happened to you? You write an email to a co-worker, warning her about this customer of yours who is a real jerk and informing her of potential problem he is about to cause for no good reason. You explain that he is a jerk who likes to push people around and if you had your say, you would refuse to do business with him. You outline in detail the problem. The co-worker responds, agreeing with you about the jerk and telling you what you should do about it.
Then the problem you predicted does occur and you start working on it; for the next two days, you work with your co-worker and some of the others in your office on the solution to the problem. You spend time carefully crafting the perfect email response to your customer. You check and double check it and then when it’s perfect, you send it to him.
And it explodes right in your face. The customer calls the president of your company screaming about how he is pulling his business and will never do business with your company again.
I bet you can guess what happened? That’s right, you forgot all about the initial email exchange with your co-worker where you did your little “the customer is a jerk” dance, while she clapped along—at the end of the long string of emails you had worked on before you sent your customer the final perfect email. IDIOT!
Yes, emails can be exploding time bombs if you’re not careful, so with a little help from Seth Godin, in his book, Whatcha Gonna Do with That Duck? And Other Provocations, 2006-2012, here is a list of what you should consider before sending out that next email:
- Is it going to one person?
- If it is going to a group, have I thought about who is on my list?
- Are they blind copied?
- Does every person on the list really need to opt in? Have they really asked for it?
- So, that means that if I didn’t send it to them, they’d complain about not getting it?
- If they wouldn’t complain, take them off!
- Have I corresponded with this person before?
- Really? Have they written back?
- Am I angry? (If so, save it as a draft and come back to it in one hour.)
- Could this work better with a phone call?
- Am I blind copying my boss? If so, what will happen if the recipient finds out?
- Is there anything in this email that I don’t want the attorney general, the media, or my boss to see? (If so, delete.)
- Is any portion of my email all caps? (If so, consider changing it.)
- Do I have my contact info at the bottom? (If not, consider adding it.)
- Have I included the line “Please save the planet. Don’t print this email” in the email? (If so, delete the line and consider a job as a forest ranger or flight attendant.)
- Could this email be shorter?
- Are there any emoticons involved? (If so, reconsider.)
- Am I forwarding something about religion? (Mine or someone else’s? If so, delete.)
- If I hit “reply all,” will I be glad I did? Does every person on the list need to see it?
- Is there a long legal disclaimer at the bottom of my email? Why?
- Does the subject line make it easy to understand what’s to come and likely to be filed properly?
And now that we have heard from Seth, a few of my own.
- Are you in the middle of a hot email fight with someone? If so, close the computer and pick up the phone, call the person, and settle it. Or better yet, walk the three feet to his cubicle and talk to him face to face,
- Either start a fresh email or make it a habit to clean up the previous correspondence below your latest signature.
- If you are using abbreviations and other shortcuts, are you certain that anyone besides you knows what you’re talking about?
- If you are sending photos make sure they are right side up, otherwise you’re not sending a photo, you’re sending a problem.
- If you want to set up a meeting, set it up in the language you speak, mention it in the email itself, don’t use a third party something or other that takes five minutes to open to see that the meeting is at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.
- Don’t use your email as a weapon. You know what I’m talking about, like trying to get someone to do something and copying her boss on the email for no good reason except to arm your email.
- And yes, the big one, where it all started: Make sure you know exactly who your email is going to.
Email is a great tool, but it is a tool, like a band saw that needs to be handled carefully and with great respect. Please keep this in mind the next time you launch…I mean, send that next email.
It’s only common sense.