How should we end emails?

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Supposedly the most effective way to end emails is “thanks in advance,” which seems like folly to me — oftentimes, “thanks in advance” means you’re assuming someone is immediately going to jump on some low-value task for you, regardless of what else they have on their plate. I get that “thanks in advance” should be a nice way to end emails, and for some managers it is. For many, though, it’s just “You on this, boy?”

The fact is, though: even with the rise of Slack and all that, email is still pretty normative, especially at a managerial level. Hopefully we all understand what exactly e-mail is by this point — it’s a way to underscore the pre-existing hierarchy of where you work. What does that mean?

  • If you’re low in status, you get in trouble for coming late to a reply-all party.
  • If you’re high in status, you’re almost revered for it.

That’s why managers sometimes swoop in at the 11th hour of projects, change everything, run people’s lives in circles, and no one can do anything. They’re high in status. It’s assumed they arrived late and changed the project because of said status. Email just helps reinforce our positions in the pecking order, which makes perfect sense. Go read Jordan B. Peterson on lobsters. You’ll get it. (Here’s that link.)

In the course of all this hierarchy-reinforcing that email does, most emails are, uh, ahem, er, well, not very good. Most people fire them off — reaction as opposed to measured response — and as such, and especially with mobile, they’re often very low-context. We’ve all been in these situations where it takes 12 emails just to figure out what someone wants you to even do. The approach should be “BLUF,” but it’s usually not.

OK, so back to the “thanks in advance” thing. In such a low-context world where demands fly in left and right — often via email, and often outside working hours — shouldn’t you end emails with a simple sentence that’s actually nice?

Something like:

“Let me know how I can make this easier for you.”

“Let me know what else you need explained, or where I can help.”

“Let me know if I’ve left anything out that you need for this.”

See the difference between these examples and “thanks in advance?” In my mind, “thanks in advance” is a slightly-nice version of saying “You gonna get this done for me, peon?” In these other examples, you’re saying “Hey, maybe I messed up or left something out and I realize I’m a human being with my own flaws and issues around communication, so let me know how I can remain in the process and help you finish what this email is discussing.”

Most emails are like this:

  • Quick header
  • Low context on some project
  • Get ‘er done
  • Sent from my mobile

This is what they should be:

  • Hey how’s life
  • Here’s this thing we’re working on
  • Background
  • Players/stakeholders
  • What needs to be done now
  • Timeline
  • Let me know how I can keep helping you
  • Sent from whatever device

See the difference?

What do you think?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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