Your emails don’t have to be long to be nice.
I hope this email finds you well and that you’re managing in these uncertain times. If possible, I have a few questions to ask you but it’s okay if you can’t. 🙂 [insert a few questions in between other sentences]. Thank you for your time, I hope to see you soon!
Folks. I can’t. I just can’t. It’s not that I get a million emails in a day. I just don’t have the extra energy to lead with email niceties and do the writing gymnastics that are required to write some nice-sounding email. First, get my name spelled correctly. It’s everywhere. Second, no, this email did not find me well. I’ve been in near-isolation for 14+ months. I have had hugs from maybe three people in that time. Who the heck is doing well right now? Third, the times are not uncertain, we’ve been in this for long enough that some things are certain!
If you’ve emailed me before with something that sounds like this, rest assured this is not about you but the general trend of email etiquette that I can’t seem to get away from. If I am emailing someone new, yes, I will probably add some sort of nice intro in the beginning. But if this is an existing business conversation or relationship, I am going to skip all that and just go for the short, succinct email.
Advantages of short emails:
- Extra brain space
- No more deleting and rewriting or adding extra exclamation points or smilies
- You say what you need to say and ask the questions you need to ask
- Bulleted or numbered points are easier to read anyway
- Skipping the whole “I hope this finds you well” thing avoids the awkwardness of you emailing at the time when someone just went on a murder spree, or the Capitol got invaded, or a bunch of anti-Asian hate crimes just got committed.
- Nothing gets misinterpreted across cultural or language barriers. This is probably the biggest reason why my emails have gotten much shorter. I work with a wide set of people, many of whom English is not their first language. Adding extra words to pad a sentence only confuses them. Then you have to spend more time explaining what you actually meant.
There are, of course, exceptions to this. Maybe you’re generally a wordy person and that’s how you write. Maybe you don’t present as a man in emails and you get a gendered, unfavored reaction to you being brisk. Or maybe you do like writing like this. All are totally valid points.
This is really for people who feel pressured (socially or internally) to be extra nice in emails and who spend far too much time balancing the words out. I do think that it is possible to write emails that are both nice and short. Not like those single question mark emails that Jeff Bezos is known for, that’s just being an asshole. **Yet another exception here is the whole idea of “emailing like a CEO.”
When I worked in an office environment and had a constant, overflowing inbox, my emails got shorter and shorter. Same with anyone who was chatting me up in Gchat. My performance review? “Could be nicer.” I added in exclamation points and smiley faces. Then I burned out and quit.
And sign-offs? It reminds me of this chaos chart.
Just leaving this here and signing off. I hope you spend just a little less time thinking about how to write your next email.
This was originally pubished in my newsletter in May 2021.