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Send Short Emails and Get Your Communications Read

People are drowning in data, more specifically in email. If you want people to read your communications, send short emails and fewer of them.

How often do you open an email, see its daunting length, close the email promising you’ll get back to it later, but don’t? Then you bump into the sender a week later and he asks, in an annoyed tone, “Did you get my email?” And you attempt to conjure up the email, distinguishing it from the 1,500 emails you’ve received since.

Some people like receiving lots of information, others don’t. Ask your internal and external customers how much information they want to receive, in what format, how frequently, and with how much detail. And when you can, accommodate their preferences.

I’m a big picture person. For me, more information is not necessarily better. I’ll read five bullets. I won’t read five paragraphs. I’m frequently guilty of opening a long email, becoming overwhelmed, deciding I don’t have time to read the entire message, promising to read it later, and by the time I go back to the message, I’ve typically missed a deadline.

You can say it’s my problem that I don’t read long emails, not the sender’s problem. And you’d be right. I should read every email I get in full. But when I don’t give the sender something she needs because I was overwhelmed by the length of her email, it becomes her problem, too. If you want people to respond and do what you’re asking, communicate how they like to communicate whenever possible.

I’d like to say that people are so used to reading short text messages and Facebook and Twitter updates that they’ve been trained not to read anything longer than a few sentences. And there may be something to that. But the truth is, there are detail people who like a lot of data and there are big picture people who don’t. If you provide a high level summary – just what recipients need to know – followed by more details or information on where more details can be found, you accommodate both the detail and the big picture people.

When you write your next email or any other type of communication, consider: Could this be said with fewer words? Do the recipients want or need this level of detail? Then, shorten your communications and accommodate both the big picture and the detail people. And you’ll be amazed at how quickly you receive the things you’re asking for.

And if that’s not working, go old school and use our greeting cards to write a note, because no one can resist a handwritten note.

About 

Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at www.candidculture.com.

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