Didn’t You Read My Email?

My work on leadership development often focuses on communication. Reason: Poor communication is the #1 complaint in most employee satisfaction surveys.

One cause of the problem is that many managers think they have communicated when they send out an email.

In a recent edition of the Trust Barometer, Richard Edelman measured that about 60% of workers say they need to hear information about a company 3-5 times before they are likely to believe it.

The implication is that the bar has been raised on the number of times managers need to communicate a consistent message before people are likely to internalize it.

The sad truth is that many managers put information in an email and honestly believe they have communicated to people. Hogwash! Let’s examine some of the reasons this opinion is incorrect.

People rarely read long and complex emails

Managers who put out technically well-worded messages have a vision that the employees will hang onto every word and absorb all the careful “spin.” It’s just not true.

If it takes more than about 30 seconds to read a note, most people will only skim it for the general topic and assume they understand the message.

If a manager puts out a note that is 3 pages long and takes 15 minutes to read, I suspect not 1 in 10 people are going to internalize the meaning.

In fact, when most people open a note and see that the text goes “over the horizon” beyond the first page, they either delete the note without reading it or close the note and leave it in the inbox for a more convenient time.

Naturally, a more convenient time does not surface, so the note is allowed to mold in cold storage like last week’s opened cheese.

Written information needs to be augmented with verbal enhancements

The written email should contain simply an outline of the salient points. True meaning should be obtained by reinforcing the key points face to face.

This vital step would also include the opportunity for personal involvement or at least dialog, so people can ponder the meaning and impact. Questions for clarification will enhance understanding.

Sensitive topics need a third exposure (and maybe a fourth)

Use some form of summary hand out, YouTube video, voicemail, text, Skype, conference call, newsletter, or podcast to solidify the information.

Make action items clear

If action is required, the succinct message of who, what, and when needs to be highlighted in bold text.

Formatting is really important

Email notes should be as short and easy to digest as possible. Aim to have the message internalized at a glance and with only 15-30 seconds of attention.

• State the objective and main point up front
• Use bullets for key points
• Avoid long complex sentences
• Summarize in a brief statement at the end

Note the use of bullets eliminates wordy construction. Use the “Golden Rule” for writing e-mails; “Write notes that you would enjoy receiving,” and utilize many different forms of communication rather than relying on just email.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

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