Avoid setting up an email for failure

I got an email last night, which started like this.

Dear all,
Firstly, let me apologise for this note, which is rather long and technical. You might want to fortify yourself with tea and biscuits before reading…

The email that followed was indeed long and technical. But it was also really useful and entirely appropriate. It was timely, in that it related to an issue discussed in a meeting earlier that day, it had exactly the right information, it was exactly the length it needed to be and was written in a tone that was friendly and informative. It was a great email.

However.

By STARTING with an apology, and by pointing out some things that weren’t great about it, the author was “priming” his readers towards thinking the email would be boring/tedious/complicated/difficult.

He was setting their subconscious elephants off down a track that made it more likely they would hate the email. And thus not pay attention to its contents.

I get it. You don’t want to inflict stuff on your colleagues that they’re not really interested in and you want them to know that you know they’re not really interested in it. So you apologise before you’ve started.

In many ways this is just dialling up the humility a bit, which can be a useful thing to do sometimes. But not at the start of an email. Don’t do it.

All it does is weaken the power of your message and make it more likely that people will ignore what you’re saying.

You don’t have to go overboard. Don’t try to oversell the thing.

Just keep it factual and informative.

Dear all,
Following on from our discussion this afternoon, I wanted to share the key points of the policy we were talking about and direct you to relevant resources…

“Key points” says “short and to the point, it won’t take you long to read this.”

“Direct you to relevant resources” says “I want to help, you can find what you need by reading this email.”

These things prime the reader in the other direction. It steers the subconscious elephant to a path that says “This email will be useful to me. I should pay attention.”

First impressions count. In emails as well as in person. Don’t put yourself on the back foot before you’ve started.

Grab a copy of my FREE eBook – 6 Keys to Leadership to find out more about Confidence vs Humility and getting the balance right between them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s