Write Emails Like an Executive

A few weeks ago, I wrote about innocuous phrases that inadvertently come off as rude in email correspondence.

I’d like to follow that up by discussing emails that try too hard to be nice and polite and, consequently, come off as insecure and annoying and, ultimately, get ignored.

Earlier this week, I came across a post on LinkedIn by Jon Youshaei, who manages creative marketing for Google, writes for lauded publications including Forbes and Time, and creates cartoons and articles for Every Vowel, a site that educates (and entertains) readers about the business world.

Youshaei shared the cartoon to the right, adding,

cartoon by Jon Youshaei, www.everyvowel.com
cartoon by Jon Youshaei, www.everyvowel.com

I’m embarrassed to say this cartoon is based on a real experience from my first months at Google. I sent that lengthy email. Afterwards, my boss said: “You sound like you’re fresh out of college!” To which I replied, “But I am fresh out of college!” And he said: “Right, but doesn’t mean you should sound like it.” 

Been there, done that! I lost count of how many cover letters and queries I pitched newspaper and magazine editors right when I got out of grad school, but I’m confident the response rate I got was well under 5 percent. And let’s not even get into the voicemails. Yikes! Here’s hoping the good people at Smithsonian magazine have forgotten my name in the last eight years, as I sounded utterly pathetic when I rambled about my qualifications and desire to live in D.C., with a rising inflection at the end of each sentence, no less.

Part of the reason for these verbose emails was youth and inexperience. I didn’t yet have a portfolio to fall back on and felt I needed to compensate with a lengthy hello. But part of it was that I worried about sounding pushy or entitled. I wanted to be perceived as nice and respectable.

Well, deferring too much to those we want to impressan editor, a superior at work or, say, a prospective clientdoesn’t make you more likable. It signals that you don’t matter all that much.

Brevity is not rude. Short messages display courtesy for people’s busy schedules. I promise: the people you email will understand, as pretty much everyone (minus prison inmates) can commiserate that time passes too quickly.

Be short and direct in your emails and I bet you’ll get more responses in faster than ever.

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