How to kill off unwanted email chains

How to kill off unwanted email chains

I wasn't sure if we'd have anything to work on during today's working session, but as usual I was proved wrong and wanted to share the insights with you.

In walking the line between ‘what to storyline' and ‘what is too small to worry about' we extracted four useful takeaways:

Storylining is worthwhile if it saves you work. In this case, Mia offered up a question about a short email that led to a useful structuring discussion. She wondered what she could have done differently to avoid a reply which led to another email on her part. 

Structuring helps work out what is wrong with even a short email. In this case, almost all the elements were all there, but the structuring wasn't quite right and something was missing which kicked off an unwelcome email chain.

In reworking it to follow a CTQ format, we were able to craft something that was still short but which would have avoided the email chain.

It's OK to write too many words in your first draft. Sometimes in drafting a communication we start with waaaay too many words, which is what happened for us. However in doing so we were able to identify the key points and easily strip it back to a sensible length.

Matching language patterns is a powerful way to untangle ideas within a list. In this case we had a couple of ‘random' points that we grouped as ‘things to note'. When we did this, we could see they weren't initially parallel, which in turn led us to question whether the ideas were MECE. Unpacking it further, here are the commonalities we noticed between the two items. They

  • both discussed invoicing which meant we had a common category to work with (or, as Barbara Minto says: a common noun, which means we can group them legitimately)
  • could be ordered by time, ie a current and future invoice (past was irrelevant, so we can see this was a complete set of relevant invoices to discuss)
  • both included an action, eg ‘is attached' and ‘is still pending', which completed the matching


I've included the before and after email below, along with annotations to highlight the changes we made. 

So, even though this was a very simple email, we were able to rework it and extract some useful learning from it.

You can watch the full recording and download the session notes below. 

I hope you can use it as a pattern for your own simple emails so you too can minimise the risk of kicking off unwanted email chains.


Kind regards,
Davina

Can you tell bad news by email?

Can you tell bad news by email?

Emailing bad news has traditionally been considered risky, and often down right poor form.

But is that always the case?

This week I worked with a manager in a data analytics team who thanked me because I had given him the strategy and the confidence to do just that.

When unpacking that situation, it turns out there were some useful lessons for us all.

  1. Establish whether your particular ‘bad news' really can be shared by email
  2. Build trust first before going to the bad news
  3. Don't hide the bad news

Let's unpack each of these a bit further.

Establishing whether your particular ‘bad news' really can be shared by email

I still hold to the idea that we need to be careful about what kind of bad news we share and when we share it. But following this discussion it seemed to me that it is possible when the right ingredients are in play.

In this case it wasn't personal, political, ambiguous or earth shattering.

The manager (let's call him Fred) had shared a report and the audience (Bill) didn't like the numbers or the approach taken to get them.

This was quite a cut and dried story, not something at all ambiguous which gave Fred extra comfort.

It was also about a topic that was important but not of enormous significance which led Fred to decide he needed to avoid investing too much time in it.

Build trust before getting to the bad news

In deciding how to respond, Fred started with empathy, which helped build a bridge before he got to the bad news.

He could see where Bill was coming from and so started with ‘I hear you and can see where you are coming from'.

He then responded to the two key points as follows:

Point 1 – Thank you for this suggestion. We'll incorporate it in the way we handle this report next time.

Point 2 – We also had this concern. However, when we looked at our options for handling this analysis we realised all other options were significantly more time intensive and not achievable within our current priorities.

So, even though Fred was sharing bad news and Bill did back check with other colleagues to see if Fred's reasoning was sound, Bill accepted the outcome.

Interestingly, Fred said it took him about half an hour to write the email which amounted to quite a time saving. Before our program he would have called Bill, set up a meeting and planned for it which would have taken one to two hours at least.

Don't hide the bad news

Fred made a point in our debrief of saying he kept to the idea of structure and even called out the second point in bold!

He felt that his initial empathetic framing gave him the authority to say it like it was and that hiding it was only going to cause more problems.

So, if you are careful about which bad news to share you can do so effectively if you frame it to build trust at the start.

I hope that helps and look forward to bringing more to you next week.

Watch out for a couple of ‘myth busting' interviews in the coming months

April 8 – Negotiation Skills Workshop

Program members have commented to me that what we do is more than communication: it is loaded with negotiation. This is relevant in both the content we include inside our communication and how we shepherd our communication through the hierarchy.

Matt Lohmeyer of Negotiation Partners will bust 3 myths about negotiating effectively at work.

>> Register here

Mid May – Communication Skills Podcast

Dr Sharon Grossman and I had a terrific conversation about executive burnout and how communication problems can feed into this. She will release it as a podcast early in May. I'll let you know when that's ready too.

How to get people to read AND reply quickly to your emails?

How to get people to read AND reply quickly to your emails?

I realise in some ways emails seem a bit basic, or even hum drum. We receive tens if not hundreds daily.

And, if we are honest, we read them quite selectively. How many unopened emails are lurking in the bottom of your inbox?

So, if we are selective … so are the people who receive emails from us.

Tricky!

How do we make sure our audiences read and reply with what we need from them quickly? Here are three ideas to help:

#1 – Say something useful. Basic, I know, but often not so.
#2 – Use simple visual formatting so your message is easy to find
#2 – Insert tables, screenshots and other images with care.

Let me unpack each of those for you.

Say something useful. How many emails are never opened and not missed?

To be useful, think super carefully about your purpose and make sure you are adding value to your recipients before you hit send. In particular,

  • Think twice if your purpose is ‘so they know what is going on'. Ask yourself WHY they need to know what is going on? What will they do with that information? Do they really need to know?
  • Minimise the number of people you CC. If your recipients receive loads of emails from you, important ones won't stand out.

Use simple visual formatting so your message is easy to find. I am shocked at how often I brace myself to read emails that appear in my inbox. Here are three tips to reduce this shock for your recipients:

  • Include plenty of white space. You will note that in this and other emails from me, I allow white space before and after sections and in particular around my (usually bolded) main message.
  • Avoid underline. It clutters the page and makes the words hard to read, even though it does draw your eye to the line itself (but not to the word).
  • Only highlight the key message unless your email is long. If long, highlight the top line supporting points as I have done here.

Insert tables, screenshots and other images with care. A great example of this came across my desk this week, which in part stimulated this post.

My client offered about six screenshots along with five lines of text to explain her problem. However, she inserted the text in between the screenshots, which rendered them invisible.

To avoid that happening to you, I suggest keeping tables, screenshots and other images to the end of your email.

The only exception is where there is just one visual followed by a big block of text. If you add just a few words after an image they will be lost.

I hope that helps and look forward to providing more ideas next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Free Workshop – Debunking 3 Business Negotiation Myths

Negotiation skills go hand in hand with communication as they help us go beyond being ‘just' clear so our messaging is also compelling.

I had the recent pleasure of meeting Matt Lohmeyer of Negotiation Partners who shared some fabulous ideas about business negotiation.

For example, he encourages us to NEVER say no.

His reasoning was fascinating, and led to a deeper conversation about how to shepherd an idea through an organisation as well as how to negotiate formal and informal deals.

>> Click here to register for this Friday 8 April workshop (8am AEST).

How to close the gap between what is on your head and what is on the page

How to close the gap between what is on your head and what is on the page

In conducting a quick review of Brian’s email at the start of this week’s working session we identified some common challenges that stem from a common problem.

How do we match what the reader takes from the page with what is in our heads as the communicator?

This is the holy grail of communication and can be particularly challenging to achieve when trying to follow the ‘rules’ of building a storyline.

With practice, these two things come together, but today’s example highlights some traps to avoid during this learning journey while also reminding us of how to bring the ‘real world’ together with the theory.

[As an aside, I want to thank Brian for sharing this one with us. There was lots of good to take away about the supporting structures … the opportunities for improvement lay particularly with the introduction.]

Tip 1 – Start the story ‘very close’ to the real event rather than going back in time

 

Starting with ‘screeds of background’ is one of the biggest complaints senior leaders have of decision-making papers and updates.

It is also a turnoff for other audiences who need to wade through it all before getting to the main game.

Yet, this is a very common challenge I see in corporate communication of all kinds, which stems I think from a fear of the audience not knowing enough history about the topic being discussed.

So, what to do?

Imagine yourself sitting down with your audience with a cup of coffee. Speak the words you would say to open the conversation. Out loud, possibly into your phone to capture them, not with your fingers on your keyboard.

These may well be the words to use at the start of your communication and if not, they will get you closer than starting ‘writing’.

Here is the difference you will see:

Context going too far back in time –

Regulations that came into effect on 1st June 2021 are being addressed in the Project by implementing a new database and new commissions processing system (Performio). Imagine a few lines of details explaining what has been done to implement the new system.

Context that reflects the right point in time (acknowledging the sentence is a bit long) –

One of the key decisions we need to make now before we go live on 1 October is whether we switch now to the new system or continue to operate the old system in parallel to allow more time to integrate Performio with its dependent systems.

Tip 2 – Avoid conflating the trigger for communicating with the trigger for doing something. These are not the same thing.

 

We use the trigger in storylining to explain to our audience why we are communicating to them about the context right now. We do this so that

The words we use in the trigger will prime them to ask the question we want them to ask.
The link should be so smooth and obvious, they can go nowhere else but to the question we are sending them to … so we can answer it with the ‘so what’.

We don’t use the trigger to explain what has happened to cause the problem or deliver the opportunity we are presenting. This will either be known to the audience and so appear in the context, or news and appear in the so what or the body of the story.

Let me use this example again to illustrate what I mean.

Trigger for communicating –

I have a recommendation for managing this process that needs your approval.

This leads to the question: What is your recommendation?

Trigger for doing something –

Testing analysis for both the database and system have revealed gaps and defects that are currently being fixed for retesting.

This leads to several questions, none of which help set you up to provide the message you need to provide: So? Why do I need to know that? How is this relevant to me?

 

Tip 3 – Craft the question to include only knowledge that you have provided the audience so far in your communication

 

In Tip 2 I explained how using the trigger for doing something sends the audience away from, rather than towards, our so what message.

Another challenge is drafting the question using information that is in our heads and not on the paper.

The initial question from this email was:

Question: Why do we need to retain BCS-BBC processing of Mixed deals in October?

This included information that was not presented to the audience in the context and trigger.

The question needs to flow naturally and so obviously it feels redundant. It might even seem stupidly simple.

Click here >> to get the full before and afters and view the recording.

I hope that helps and look forward to bringing you more next week.

Kind Regards,

Davina

Want ideas for getting the most out of the program?

 

I had a terrific conversation with one of our new members today who was bemoaning her lack of progress in the program so far. Like many of you, she has a busy job and hasn't yet found her ‘groove'.

Here are three ideas that she thought would work for her, that might help you also:

 

  1. Listen to some of the interviews stored in the library during your commute. There are a number, all tagged ‘interview' on topics such as board papers, hypothesis driven problem solving and how to get the information you need from busy stakeholders to prepare a piece of communication.
  2. Lock a time into your diary near the start of your day to complete a module or two. Instead of leaving your learning to the end of the day where it may be ‘run over', locking away 15 minutes will see you finish a module, giving you something useful to try that day.
  3. Set up a time for a 10 minute chat with Sheena to learn to navigate the portal. If you aren't sure how to find what you need, Sheena is very happy to Zoom with you to demonstrate.