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Email is a complete cluster-fuck to almost everyone. We all complain about it, but secretly love how much we get, because it makes us feel (a) busy/high and (b) relevant. Both matter a lot to work, even if we don’t admit that.

In reality, email is just a way to underscore the pre-existing hierarchy of wherever you work. To wit:

  • High up a chain: Never respond to a thread for days/weeks, then respond at the 11th hour on a project, change everything, and that’s fine
  • Low down a chain: If you don’t respond instantly at 11pm to a “stakeholder,” your next performance review will say you “lack initiative.”

That’s the main problem.

The other problem? No one knows how to write emails with any context, often because they’re doing it on-the-go from mobile. You could copy an idea from the Army — BLUF, or Bottom Line Up Front — and fix this, but that’s very rare. Most emails are a train wreck of nothingness that you need to decipher just to do your job. And we wonder why only 15% of employees globally are engaged with their job, eh?

Maybe there’s a small fix here, though.

Previous research on how to end emails

Apparently you should end them with “thanks in advance.”

I get why this one is popular — it uses “thanks,” which is a rare word at many companies — but “thanks in advance” kind of reeks to me. It’s a pre-supposition that you will drop everything and just do whatever low-context drivel is being asked of you in this email. One of the worst bosses I’ve ever seen in my life used “thanks in advance” religiously. Maybe a coincidence, maybe not.

My recommendation would be…

Try this one:

“Let me know if anything here wasn’t clear and I’ll try to explain it better.”

Or:

“Let me know what you need more background or context on to get it going, and I’ll fill in gaps.”

Why is this better?

A few reasons:

  • Shows respect
  • Indicates that you may not have provided all the info the person needs
  • Says implicitly that “I want to have a conversation”
  • Puts you on even playing field: “Hey, maybe I didn’t deliver, and I’m willing to fix that.”

What most managers seem to assume when they fire off emails

I’m fucking really smart and I communicate bigly and so good and this peon will understand everything I need inherently and there will be no questions or context drops and I’ll have that sparkling project on my desk in no time and I’ll send that to MY boss and look good up the chain, which is what really matters here.

See the difference between that thinking and “what can I provide?”

That gap — chasm, really — is why a lot of people dread opening their email and/or going to work. There can be so many hair-on-fire projects tossed over the email fence with no context.

If managers really seemed to care about “Hey, am I providing what I need to here? Am I giving you the backstory and context or just assuming you know everything I know?” — wouldn’t work be better?

Seems easy enough.

Written by

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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