Yet another one.
An email demanding you act on something quickly. No greeting. No expression of good faith. No humanity. Terse words that shout at you to fix something, improve something, produce something. All, of course, by yesterday.
Can someone please tell this entitled brigade knocking on my inbox that my job does not revolve around their wishes?
I call this type of email The Rude Demand, and it isn’t the only type of email we loathe to receive. Below is the full list.
1. The Rude Demand (see above).
2. Mama Borg. These are the emails that are just boring: sterile, dispassionate, devoid of any warmth. No exclamation points. No humor. No levity. It’s as if the Borg Collective has assimilated their inbox. People avoid their emails for the same reason they avoid glum Aunt Norma - no excitement. Sterility, 1. Humanity, 0.
3. The Charles Dickens. Dickens was paid by the word, and so (seemingly) was this sender. They write you a tome the lengths of which rival The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, complete with bullet points, color-coded items, and yes, the dreaded 'next steps' section. People avoid their emails for the same reason they avoid going back to school - homework. Long Email, 1. Likelihood of Me Fulfilling your ‘Action Items,’ 0.
4. The Passive Aggressive Leaker. This is the person that won’t come out and say ‘You’re stupid, why are you asking me this,’ but will instead, leak this mindset through every rich-text-format option at their disposal. “Per the email I sent out multiple times previously. This group is NOT for discussing issues pertaining to x. Please be clear in the future about what you mean before sending.” The type whose keyboard just staged a walkout from all the bold, underlining, and italics overuse. Self-sabotage, 1. Emily-Post-Would-Be-Proud-Of-You, 0.
5. Jekyll & Hyde. This is the bi-polar emailer. They send curt and obviously-written-in-haste emails to those ‘beneath’ them while sending elaborate, painstakingly-looked-over emails to their superiors. They are oblivious to the fact that everyone can see through their pandering. Every time you get one of their emails, you’re reminded of the fact that they would treat you much better if you had a c-suite title to your name. Power-grab, 1. Consistency, 0.
While the above five senders may have different motivations and manifestations, the end result of the recipient is the same: we don’t look forward to their correspondence. We avoid their emails (and oftentimes them) if we can get away with it.
Most email writers ignore this basic tenet of human psychology: pleasure is the greatest motivator. If my first encounter with you is enjoyable, I will look forward to it again. In fact, I may seek you out. The inverse is also true - one passive aggressive email, and you best bet I’ll be rolling my eyes when I see your name come up in my inbox the next time.
We repeat things we enjoy. Emails should be enjoyable.
I receive responses like this regularly from the 6,500+ customers in my user group. People who look forward to my emails. People who get bombarded with emails on a daily basis, and choose to open mine faithfully. It’s both an honor and a responsibility I take seriously.
The average person spends 11 hours a week reading and answering emails - that’s 28% of the work week. You would think this large of a slice would warrant deeper scrutiny and strategy. Not! When was the last time you saw an email etiquette component as a part of new hire on-boarding? Or how about the latest communication seminar you attended - did it have a component on communicating effectively over email? We are woefully and aggressively lacking in the basic skills of results-driven email writing, and there doesn't seem to be much guidance or strategy out there in ways of remedy.
The essence of the problem can be crystallized as such: the majority of emails are selfish. People only send an email when they want something from you: a question answered, a problem solved, a meeting scheduled, a metric produced. Do me a favor. Open your inbox right now and tell me how many of your first 25 emails do not require something from you. I’ll wait.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find an email whose sole purpose is to give and not take. And this observation, right here, is how we change the game. This is how we get people to actually want to read our emails.
—> Shift from Taking to Giving
We have to shift our mindset from ‘how can I get this person to do what I want’ to ‘how can I add value to their life?’
We can add value in the following ways.
We all want to be better at our jobs. Send out an email whose sole purpose is to build acumen in something that is integral to the recipient’s day-to-day work. When I first started at my current ‘day job’ four years ago, I noticed that the majority of our users only knew the bare bones of our systems. There were pieces of functionality, reports, and click paths that would make their job much easier, the majority of which were unknown by the largest swath of our customers. I decided to start a user group where I would send out a system ‘Quick Tip’ every Tuesday to those who subscribed to my group. Each week, subscribers would receive a little nugget of knowledge (screenshots, step-by-step exercises, & training videos) aimed at building acumen in the system. I had no marketing campaign, no big launch from senior leadership. But even so, the emails came flooding in. 'OMG I had no idea I could do this! Thanks for sending out these weekly tips, they are saving me a bunch of time.' Word of mouth spread, and two years later, I currently have 6,500+ customers who willingly - yes willingly - opt in to receive my emails and rely on them for on-going professional development.
How you show up on email is everything. Each email you send is building your brand. Yes, you have an email brand. Yes, you should be intentional about it. Don’t be afraid to show some emotion (dare I say excitement!) via email. Have a little levity. Have a little playfulness. It humanizes you. People are more likely to learn from you (and do what you want, btw) if you are approachable. This is true in real life and it’s also true on email. A little less RBF, and a little more positive energy on email goes a long way. One of the reasons my user subscription is so high is because I deliver the content with warmth. My customers tell me this repeatedly. Most ‘official’ emails sound robotic. Who wants to learn from a robot? My emails sound like me. It’s important that your emails have a strong voice, your voice. Your delivery should be congruent no matter what communication medium you are leveraging.
Imagine a cake without icing. It loses its appeal doesn’t it? Adding little ‘extras’ in your email, while not substantive, act as the icing on the cake of your content. In my weekly Quick Tips, I have a short section at the bottom called Word on the Street. It features fun, whimsical, and interesting things that happened that week. Perhaps Amazon announced it started delivering to garages. Or a report came out ranking the cleanliness of football stadiums nationwide. I include a brief, one-sentence blurb of a few noteworthy items and link off to an article for each. This adds immense value. People don’t just want to excel at their jobs, they want to be better conversationalists. Giving someone a few hand-picked, interesting topics to discuss with anyone that week is incredibly useful. I get so many emails from customers saying something to the effect of 'Your technical tips are great, but my favorite part is the Word on the Street section.' It's the icing that sweetens the deal. ;)
We will run marathons for people who truly appreciate us. Gratitude engenders respect, respect begets loyalty. When was the last time you emailed someone with a genuine thank you? Very few people send thank you emails; most people send ‘thank you - and’ emails. They say thank you, only as a primer to what they want to you to do next. 'MaryBeth you did a great job at the presentation. Now we really need to focus on converting results to ….' The thank you is used as a warm-up to get you motivated to do whatever follows. It’s not a simple thank you. It’s a thank you - and. People can smell the manipulation a mile away. I challenge you to send 3 thank you emails each week. A straightforward thank you, no strings attached.
Most people enjoy being affirmed. We like when people shine a light on our skills, attributes, contributions, and successes. It makes us feel capable and wanted. It makes us feel valued. Human nature 101: we value people who value us. Take time out of your day to send a heart-felt compliment to someone via email. Like gratitude, this should be no strings attached. No agenda. You best bet the next time this person sees an email from you, they will open it.
Whether you’re trying to start an email subscription group, trying to create repeat customers, or trying to build a brand, remember this: everyone starts with zero followers. And most people stay there by solely focusing on themselves and what they want. If you want to gain an email faithful, you need to start focusing on how to add value to their lives, not your own.
Ask yourself this, would people still do what I want if I didn’t have the fancy title and the big corner office? If the answer is no, you don’t have loyalty, you have compliance. And compliance doesn’t motivate someone to tell others how awesome you are. Compliance doesn’t translate into positive word-of-mouth. Compliance doesn’t make followers.
Let’s aim for real influence. That starts in the way we interact with others, especially on email. Focus on enriching others. Focus on adding value. And then be patient. Really patient. Slowly, you’ll get their trust. Slowly, you’ll get their loyalty.
Then, well, the rest is history 😉
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