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We have been struggling with e-mail for two decades now, and it seems to be winning. But leadership coach Dianna Booher suggests in her book Faster, Fewer, Better Emails you can improve by adopting these strategies:

  • Stop using e-mail for tasks other software handles more appropriately: There was a time when e-mail seemed helpful for scheduling meetings and appointments. But we’ve all fumbled with a blizzard of sequential emails confusing the attempt to find a common time. Meanwhile, various calendaring software allows someone to suggest a time and recipients to confirm or edit their response. Another example is project management. Even though software exists to handle team collaboration, a University of Northern Colorado survey of knowledge workers found 62 per cent of respondents use e-mail more than half the time in projects.
  • Stop using your inbox for storage: Most of us do this, to some extent or other, wanting to be reminded about pressing matters. Ms. Booher recommends Microsoft Outlook users drag the relevant e-mail to the to-do task pane for the appropriate follow-up date. In other e-mail clients, make a manual calendar note. Of course, other clutter gathers because we can’t decide what to do with the messages, including where to file them. Instead, decide immediately and reply, forward or file.
  • Stop superfluous piling-on: A report is sent out and everyone receiving it sends empty responses such as “looks good” to all the others, causing needless distractions. Or when somebody is sick, everyone receiving the person’s note feels obliged to reply-all and wish the colleague a speedy recovery. Don’t pile on yourself. And try to curb it beforehand from others. If you send out a draft report, advise people to respond directly to you if any corrections need to be made – otherwise no reply or action is necessary.
  • Acknowledge receipt and respond with your plan: When someone requests action or information from you that will require a significant amount of time to provide, don’t leave them hanging. Respond immediately and indicate your response timing. Ms. Booher notes that people worry their e-mails may not have been received – some administrative assistants have the authority to delete emails – so indicate it was received: “Got it. Will get back to you shortly.”
  • Indicate what response you are looking for: Sometimes our e-mail requests to colleagues are hopelessly vague. She cites an e-mail sent by one colleague to another, asking, “What do you think about doing a client survey?” Instead, clarify the issues involved with a series of bulleted questions: What should be the primary goal for the survey, should we survey all clients or a representative few, and could your team handle this in-house or do we need a contractor?
  • Allow people to bow out after introductions: When you introduce someone to another through e-mail in the hopes they might collaborate, if there’s no need for you to be involved, indicate as much: “Please take it from her yourselves.”

Ms. Booher also offers the MADE format to help make your e-mails be easier to grasp:

  • Message: Summarize your message in one or two sentences.
  • Action: Make recommendations based on your proposal or indicate follow-up actions you expect from recipients.
  • Details: Elaborate with details about what you are proposing – the who, what, why, when and how.
  • Evidence: Mention any optional attachments to make the message or actions clearer, such as a cost analysis.

Some of her ideas might point to e-mail missteps you’re making. Follow her advice and you’ll reduce your daily frustration.

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Quick hits

  • Here’s another e-mail tip from author Gretchen Rubin, who says she doesn’t mind sending and responding to e-mails at odd hours but knows others may want a respite. So she delays delivery to a more appropriate time when the recipient is more likely to be working.
  • Fail trying, not gathering information, says executive coach Dan Rockwell.
  • Women score higher than men in most leadership skills, according to the Zenger/Folkman consultancy report. They were rated as excelling in taking initiative, acting with resilience, practising self-development, driving for results and displaying high integrity and honesty – and their successes came at every level of the organizational hierarchy. Men were rated as being better on two measures: Developing strategic perspective, and technical or professional expertise.
  • In presentations, people can’t rewind a tape, so make sure you repeat your take-home line six to eight times, advises career coach Rajiv Nathan.
  • A survey by ADP Canada found one in three respondents have been involved in a workplace relationship. One-in-ten have been in a relationship with a colleague holding a senior position at the same company. Overall, 7.5 per cent report feeling pressured to be in such a relationship, whether to be considered for favourable projects, to keep their current role or progress in their career, or to keep in good standing with the company or a senior member of the organization.

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