TagCommunication

Rules for Email

I spend a lot of time in email. If you’re reading this, you also spend a lot of time in email. Either you’re waiting for new support requests to come in, or work to show up from your boss or you’re corresponding with friends and loved ones. Email is everywhere and it comes in like a tidal wave. It’s worth setting some ground rules with people you email.

Set Email Hours

For instance, I don’t email people outside of work hours. If I happen to look at email after work to pull some bit of information I need and I see something needing a reply, I may draft the reply and leave it as a draft. I don’t need to send that reply now.

I do this because I don’t want to teach people I am reachable by email outside of work hours. Even if it’s just one person, word spreads. If I email one person back in the evening or the weekend, it won’t be long before people are emailing me at all times for responses and expecting one.

Blind Carbon Copy (BCC)

I will let this author share my thoughts about BCC as they’re clearer than anything I’ve ever said.

There are only two legitimate uses for bcc. First, explicitly moving someone to bcc who no longer needs to be part of the ongoing exchange. Second, to send email to a large group of people by putting all of them on bcc. I strongly recommend never using bcc any other way. If you want someone to know about an email you sent, send it and then forward it…

Some Things I Have Learned About Email

That second point is particularly important. When you send email to a group using the TO or CC line, then you’re not just emailing everyone. But you’ve given everyone on that list the addresses of everyone else on that list. Even if it’s a small list, those people may not want others to know they’re part of it. Or to give up their email address.

If you have a large list, then you’re asking for a reply-all nightmare. I’ve emailed groups of 500 people before using a series of BCC emails. If you don’t, and any of those people decide to reply-all, you’ve got an email going to 500 people every. single. time.

Please take me off this list.

Thanks

I’m not going to ever reply to an email with Thanks if it’s the end of the conversation. You don’t need another email to delete from me and it doesn’t add any value to our conversation.

I’ll email a response to any questions I am being asked, or if I need something and you reply you’ll do it. I’m not going to close the thread with a Thanks. I don’t see the point of it and it annoys me when people respond with their own Thanks.

Meeting Acceptances

By default, Outlook will send an email reply when you Accept a meeting. I always opt to not send the reply back. If I decline, I respond with a reason in addition to the declined email. However, if I’m going to attend your meeting, I’m not having the system send an email. I feel about this the same way I feel about the Thanks email. It’s unnecessary.

This is a learned behavior from running a series of large meetings and training events where I find myself buried in emails. It’s no fun to return to an inbox overflowing with over 100 meeting acceptance emails. It serves no purpose other than to generate another email.

Less Email

The goal of my last two rules is to make less email. When I reply to an email, I try to be brief and consider the recipient’s time. In the same way, I don’t generate more email for them to sort through. Though many people’s inboxes have unread counts in the thousands partly because of emails like this.

I do my part to send less email and generate less email overall. I don’t see the point in adding to the growing pile of unread messages. Especially if they say “Thanks” or “I’ve accepted your meeting request.”

All Email Is Public

I don’t mean public in that hackers are going to release it, or it’s going to fall into the wrong hands. I mean people will forward email to anyone for any reason without a second thought.

If I write a reply to a question someone asks me, I assume it’s going to be forwarded in its entirety to the third-party who asked the question.

A bonus tech worker tip: Never put any note in a ticket or email you would not want the customer to read.

Nothing about email is private. I’ve had entire ticket histories emailed to customers. I’ve had co-workers and managers send along an entire conversation just the two of us were having to a larger group. The truth is you never know just how far and wide your email may go. Treat it as if it will be read by the person you least wish would read it. That way, when they do, you won’t have anything to apologize for.

Silos

There are bottlenecks in your communication and it’s slowing your team down. Working in a large organization, there are two ways to share information collaboratively.

First, there is an open flow of information. For instance, a wiki. When I worked for the National Cancer Institute, we had a giant wiki all the technical staff used, updated and relied upon for information. It was a fantastic way to share information across teams and locations. Everyone was able to contribute to the knowledge of the group. Everyone was accountable for their changes.

Second, there is a collection of silos. This is Sharepoint. These are network drives. The silos prohibit the free-flow of information and limit it to pre-approved groups of people. Gatekeepers for those groups hold the reigns of their information tightly and in order for new people to access the information, they must be granted access.

Silos are slow.

When information is locked away inside a silo, it can take hours, or days for the information to be available to those who need it. When information is open, it can be accessed immediately and work can continue.

How many times has this happened to you? You’re at work and you need to do something for the first time. For me, that’s fairly often. When I had access to a well-manicured wiki, it was a matter of searching and finding the information I needed.

Now, I asked for where the information lived. It could be on the Intranet. It could be on Sharepoint. It could be locked away on a network drive somewhere.

I got a quick answer over email.

There are some user guides located at https://sharepointURL

Great. I clicked the link and read the guide. Now I am ready to complete the work!

Wrong.

Sharepoint Denied Access

I’m denied access because I am not on the pre-approved list of people who can access this how-to guide.

I replied to the email that I did not have access. I then clicked the Request access link and found this helpful page.

Sharepoint Request Access form

An anonymous form where I can Send Request. Where does it go? Who manages this access? Can I call them? Email them? No.

I completed the form with the information I needed to get access to and why. And I wait.

That was yesterday. Today, there is no answer. Nor is there any access.

I am not expecting it any time soon. There is no accountability with this system. There is no way to see where my request is or if it went anywhere.

Lip Service

Many organizations say things like we want to foster more communication and collaboration. And then they roll out tools which do precisely the opposite.

I’ve seen where a culture has grown around the open sharing of ideas and information and it’s a magical thing. But too many times information is stuck in silos.

Silos will always stifle communication and collaboration and put up unneeded road blocks. In order to foster communication and collaboration information must flow between teams seamlessly. If a person on another team needs a document, it shouldn’t involve a level of approval to make that document available.

Beyond the Reboot #2: Communicate Clearly

You can have all the technical expertise and customer service experience in the world, but if you can’t communicate clearly it won’t do any good. There are many barriers to clear communication with your customer.

Jargon is the biggest barrier to clear communications. Jargon is a set of terms particular to an industry. Computers have their own dictionary of terms which is enough to throw even the most seasoned computer user into despair.

On top of this, the customer service industry has acronyms like SLAs and FCR. These stand for Service Level Agreement and First Call Resolution. Even with the words spelled out, it’s still unclear to many people what these are. The SLA is the agreement on how fast technicians have to respond to the various levels of trouble tickets. The more critical the issue, the faster the response.

First Call Resolution simply means an issue that was resolved on the first call. This often applies to a help desk where the first person a customer speaks to solves their issue. Terms like this needlessly confuse customers and make them feel even more confused and frustrated.

When speaking to a customer don’t use jargon. Speak in plain terms anyone can understand. It can help to pretend you’re talking to a parent or friend in your life who is clueless about computers. Speak to your customers in the same way, with a friendly understanding and caring attitude.

Just as jargon is too specific, being too vague is also a barrier to clear communication. Recently, a customer was working with a network team member to move a database to another server. It was a web-based application and after the move was complete, nothing showed up for the customer. She contacted the network technician stating what she was seeing. His response was, “What system are you using?”

My customer came to me for help because she didn’t understand the question. This could mean any number of things. What browser are you using? Are you on a Mac or a PC? What is the URL you’re looking at? We had to email the technician back and ask what exactly he was requesting which added time and frustration to resolving the issue. Be precise when communicating with customers.

It’s very easy to assume everyone understands what you mean. It’s easy to overlook something trivial like saying “system” when you know what system you’re talking about. Try to be precise as possible especially when communicating. Otherwise you’ll find yourself going back and forth with a customer to clarify and not make progress resolving the problem.

There can be an actual spoken language barrier. I support customers whose native language is not English. I work with customers who speak Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, and French. While they may be able to speak English and hold a conversation, when it comes to certain terms they may not know the words to communicate the issue they’re having. Many of my customers consider my ability to speak “computer” a second language. Imagine how hard it must be to know the terminology in their native tongue and in English.

It takes some guesswork and some demonstration to get a clear picture of the problem. All the more reason when you’re communicating with your customer to use simple words if needed and find a common ground on which to communicate. If your customer can’t understand you and you can’t understand your customer. You’re not going to get anywhere.

Always be clear and direct with your customers. The more time you spend clarifying, the less time you can spend solving problems.

Big Spender

Communication and trust are vital to a happy marriage. Everyone will tell you this about any relationship but what most people don’t talk about in marriage is how your thinking must change.

Before I entered this relationship I had to think about myself and make decisions about my money and my time. I had to make decisions only keeping my best interests in mind.

After you enter a relationship and eventually a marriage all of this changes. Instead of looking out for yourself and taking your wants and whims into account you also need to take into account the wants, whims and feelings of your significant other.

No one tells you this when you agree to marry the lady or guy of your dreams. It is something which must be learned and practiced.

I did something stupid recently. I bought a watch. It was expensive. This was a huge mistake on my part. This mistake was two-fold.

My mistake was not because I bought the watch.
My mistake was not even because of the price of the watch.

First, my mistake was the timing of the purchase.

I had just gotten paid and was feeling that look at all the money in our account feeling. I bought the watch and didn’t think anything more of it.

Until I got home.

It was at that point I realized the magnitude of my mistake. I had spent a sizable chunk of the money we were going to have left after the rent check, which I wrote out that evening, went through.

I had forgotten at the time of purchase but my wife had mentioned the night before about not spending a lot of money because it was going to be tight until she got paid in a couple of days. Also because we had agreed not to buy Christmas present for each other this year.1

Second, I did not think to talk to her before I spent $100 of our money.

No longer is this my money and my life. This is now our money and our life together. We are working very hard to pay off our credit card debt2, pay down student loan debt and generally be smart about how and where we spend our money.

I had not taken any of this into account when I clicked that buy button.

When you enter a marriage, you are no longer only responsible only for yourself. You are now responsible for yourself and your spouse. Your decisions are their decisions when it comes to time and money. In the future, I will consult my wife and make sure I’m thinking about what is best for us, no just for myself.


  1. There is very little we need. Even coming up with a list of wants for family has been very difficult. 

  2. We will be credit card debt free by early next year!