#mailfail 6: When my Trust grows, my sentences grow shorter
Only five years ago, I prematurely assumed that e-mails would soon be a thing of the Past… Why opt for uncalled-for complexity, potentially misreading the context and communicating asynchronously, if you have a choice? Well, here is a recent example.
A few months ago, I had agreed to tackle a major client request for training proposals together with a colleague with whom I had been working since 2003. In fact, we decided to celebrate our twenty-year anniversary of professional friendship by pitching against several large agencies in our contract bid.
We had divided the content and method description of the training and coaching process into two parts. I would send my half of the content to her, and she would then forward everything to the client. Everything was very clear, and no feedback loops were required.
The deadline for submitting my part had come and gone, and I was feeling rather smug about the fact that I had shared my pdf attachments well in advance.
One fine morning, I check my inbox and see this mail from her account.
Subject Line: “?”
I open the e-mail and find her signature. Nothing else.
Where´s the rest of it?
Perhaps she prematurely pressed the Send button?
I decide to wait.
After two hours or so I start to think about it. What could “?” mean?
Hm. Could it mean:
“Hey, did you forget our deadline?”.
OK, let me work with this premise. I know I sent the content. Perhaps my e-mail ended up in her Spam filter because of those attachments and she didn´t get to see it?
Is she really leaving the guesswork to me?
I decide to respond in kind.
I delete the subject line and insert a “!”
I know I wish to convey the following with “!”:
“OF COURSE I have remembered the deadline and sent you the material as agreed.
After a while, I receive her answer.
In the subject line I find:
Aha! She has decoded my “!” and retrieved my e-mail from her Spam filter.
Why did it work?
We had already co-created a framework and contextual understanding together so that we could understand what we meant without needing to be wordy. We managed to reduce the complexity of our exchange to a bare minimum.
There are nicer ways to get one´s ideas across to the receiver, and this wasn´t my favorite style. Again, this is an extreme example, and you certainly don´t have to know the receiver for twenty years.
However, the subject line can help
a) Prioritize our message
b) Understand our intentions, from the receiver´s perspective.
Choosing a meaningful subject line over “aw:re:re:re:re:” etc. is a good idea, once both of you are on the same page and have established an understanding about the things that “go without saying”.
We had an understanding of the relationship level, so we could primarily focus on the task level. Of course, we picked up our smartphones later and had a good laugh.
This is a phenomenon I see very frequently: When trust grows (which in this case would be the understanding of another person), sentences grow shorter.
My takeaway: never start with a purely task-oriented communication style, even if you think that this leads to a higher degree of transparency. The worst kind of response you may get is NO response. Start with also communicating the things that you consider to be understood and don´t need to be repeated. But this may only be based on your self-perception, does your counterpart have the same kind of understanding? In this case, even after so many years, such brief lines led to quite a lot of doubt. At the very beginning, let your counterpart understand where your thoughts are coming from, instead of only stating the outcome of your thought process. What’s your communication style to prevent unsuccessful emails?
3rd generation of intercultural management application. Consultant, Facilitator, Trainer, Coach, Lecturer and Mentor since 1992. Homes in Pune and Berlin.
Enabling Virtual Closeness in Remote Teams, Training country-specific / team building intercultural formats, Coaching for Leadership/Expat Roles, Mentoring Startups, Moderating Panels, Creating DEI Events, Comparing Euro-/US-centric leadership characteristics with Indo-centric patterns.