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Your Irritating Emails Aren't Helping

3 chances to help your email recipient make your life easier.

That's what it email's all about, isn't it? Sharing information to make each other's journey easier?

You want something from them, so making it simple for them to get it to you is not only generous to them, but serves your interests, too. Read on for examples using email's three sections to your advantage.

It's not news that from the first email over 50 years ago to today, the number of daily emails has steadily increased. But did you know the average number of workplace emails is between 40 and 200? Average! Add instant messages, voice mail, and texting and, yikes, overloaded.

man with hand over face surrounded by electronic gadgets

Although lately we've been writing texts that rival the length of emails, emails generally have more information in them than texts and other message styles. They require more thought to process, especially if they're loaded with attachments. It’s a no-brainer to figure out which ones we’ll deal with first.

Out of sheer sanity preservation, we have to be picky about which emails we bother with and scan senders and subject lines to clean out the inbox quickly.

"Click-delete. Click-trash. Click-gone. Click-trashing you too, pal."

What’s left are what’s interesting and obligations. Out of those, we'll avoid what we think will require a lot of effort to deal with.

“Carl’s are always confusing, and I’ll save that one for later. Cripes, there’s Nancy. She’s always got a bazillion attachments. Later, maybe never, Nancy. Bwah-ha-ha!”

Switch your viewpoint to get the response you need.

You're trying to engage them, right? Making it easier for your reader is in your best interest. You help them, they help you back, what could be better?

So, where do you start?

First, quit doing the things that bug you as a recipient. That’s right—you, Carl and Nancy, might be the problem.

Second, put yourself in their position and model emails you find helpful.

Third, ask for and share suggestions on what others think are helpful

Fourth, write thoughtfully.

Use email’s three sections to your advantage.

You’ve got three ways to help them: The subject line, the email body, and your signature.

Below are a few suggestions to get you started. Each of the three sections tells you what doesn’t help, an alternative, why it's beneficial, and a caveat.

SUBJECT Write as though you are the recipient.

Not helpful Our meeting

Better Investment Review Mtg, 8/9/21, 2 pm, forms attached

Benefit Accurate, concise subject lines means they'll waste less time looking for it later.

Keep in mind Aim for seven words and about 30 characters so they are easy to read on a cell phone.

Oh, and please don't pile 6 other topics in the same email. Replies will confuse everyone, especially if the emails are forwarded and returned multiple times.

BODY Describe what you want, why, and how you can help.

Not helpful Blah, blah, yadayada, yayada, and note at the end, "I need these 37 lengthy forms that will require all your ink to print, read, fill out, and scan back to me even though I don't know if you have a scanner."

Better First sentence: This is a friendly reminder that we’re scheduled to meet for your investment review at 2 pm on 8/9/21, at 123 Main Street. The required forms are attached. Tell me if you prefer I mail them to you instead.

Benefit No wading through dense text to find the goal at the bottom.

Keep in mind Soften with please and appreciate so it's not heard as a demand, even though it is.

SIGNATURE Tell them how to contact you in simple terms.

Not helpful Photos, graphics, and lengthy text that you include on every reply.

Better Short, simple text with links instead of graphics.

Benefit Some email programs will show a graphic file as an attachment, leading people to look for a document when there isn’t one. Plus, they take up a lot of space when emails are forwarded repeatedly. Yes, people still print emails, and the big picture in your signature can turn a two page print into 10.

Keep in mind Consider simplifying your signature to just your name on replies.

My email pet peeve.

Who decided to confidentiality statements belong at the end of an email?

Telling me I shouldn’t read it after I’ve already read it if it was misaddressed to me is a bit late. Should I alert the sender it was misfired? Or should I delete it and wonder how important it was to the intended recipient?


Squinting owl.
You made a mistake and want me to fix it for you?

Are we communicating yet?

Delivering information efficiently is important, but communicating well is critical.

No doubt there are at least 11 more 'easy and efficient communication' methods on the horizon, leaving us more confused, irritated, and disconnected than ever.

Think about it, 30 short years ago personal answering machines were just becoming common, few used personal emails, texting wasn't a thing, and social media was a printed magazine. What's next?

Effective communication happens when people understand each other, and that requires more than just depositing what we assume people need.

If only for your own sake, put yourself in their position to understand how to help them. Bonus? You'll get want you want easier and create better relationships along the way.

If you're not sure, ask. Better yet, ask anyway.

Listen. Respond. Describe. Offer help. Communicate. Be nice.

Share a thought; share a tip below.


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