Email Best Practices
Tried and True Email Tips From a Google Exec
It's no secret that Google and Apple have been fiercely competitive with one another for years now. That's why everyone did a major brow-raise this week when Google's executive chairman and former CEO, Eric Schmidt, said that Steve Jobs is his hero. "We could all aspire to be a small percentage of Steve," he continued to say during a promotion for his new book, How Google Works. Despite the rivalry between companies, this doesn't come as a huge surprise since Jobs and Schmidt had a well-known friendship.
Hanging out with exceptional people like Jobs isn't the only piece of wisdom Schmidt doles out in his new book, cowritten with Google's Senior Vice President of Products, Jonathan Rosenberg. The two tech experts also provide readers with important rules for emailing like a professional. Check out some pointers from Schmidt and Rosenberg below.
- Respond quickly. There are people who can be relied upon to respond promptly to emails, and those who can't. Strive to be one of the former. Most of the best — and busiest — people we know act quickly on their emails, not just to us or to a select few senders, but to everyone. Being responsive sets up a positive communications feedback loop whereby your team and colleagues will be more likely to include you in important discussions and decisions, and being responsive to everyone reinforces the flat, meritocratic culture you are trying to establish. These responses can be quite short — "got it" is a favorite of ours. And when you are confident in your ability to respond quickly, you can tell people exactly what a nonresponse means. In our case it's usually "got it and proceed." Which is better than what a nonresponse means from most people: "I'm overwhelmed and don't know when or if I'll get to your note, so if you needed my feedback you'll just have to wait in limbo a while longer. Plus I don't like you."
- When writing an email, every word matters, and useless prose doesn't. Be crisp in your delivery. If you are describing a problem, define it clearly. Doing this well requires more time, not less. You have to write a draft then go through it and eliminate any words that aren't necessary. Think about the late novelist Elmore Leonard's response to a question about his success as a writer: "I leave out the parts that people skip." Most emails are full of stuff that people can skip.
- When you use the bcc (blind copy) feature, ask yourself why. The answer is almost always that you are trying to hide something, which is counterproductive and potentially knavish in a transparent culture. When that is your answer, copy the person openly or don't copy them at all. The only time we recommend using the bcc feature is when you are removing someone from an email thread. When you "reply all" to a lengthy series of emails, move the people who are no longer relevant to the thread to the bcc field, and state in the text of the note that you are doing this. They will be relieved to have one less irrelevant note cluttering up their inbox.
Check out six more insightful tips from the authors on Time.
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