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Thoughts About Email

I read a quote the other day regarding email. I’m probably paraphrasing because I can’t remember now where I read it, but the gist of the quote was “Emails are crafted in such a way as to only benefit the sender.”

Think about that for a moment.

How many emails do you send that do NOT benefit you? How many emails do you send that don’t:

  • Ask a question to which you need an answer
  • Ask someone to help you do something
  • Ask for input on a topic or project
  • Pass the buck to someone else by looping an unsuspecting colleague in on a conversation that you don’t want to deal with

As a service provider and solutions professional, I spend most of my time on the other side of that relationship. Most of the emails I receive are asking me for something, from clients and also my team. I am asked about scheduling appointments, status of projects on which I’m working for a client, questions regarding tax issues or accounting problems, or (here’s the big one) I’m being asked to devote my time to something new.

Emails are fertile ground for misunderstanding. They’re the older brother of text messages. Texts can be and often are short and terse, and emails USED TO BE the opposite. But these days, with a community of overcommitted people who think that responding to emails is the same as doing deep and meaningful work, emails are becoming one-line invitations to misunderstand each other.

After a particularly frustrating e-mail exchange with a client on the day before the tax deadline in April, I read that quote about email. It’s so applicable to how we live today. And I decided to do something different.

I have made a commitment to send out at least one email each day that isn’t a response to something. I would like to break the chain of emails that only ask for something or answer a question previously asked. What if I could use email for something different, like reaching out to share something? Not as a disguised way of asking for more work, or to bother clients who already receive more email than they can read, or for trying to sell someone on something. Purely for the purpose of sharing.

I wonder if email would feel different to both the sender AND the receiver if we changed how we use it?

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