Why most emails deserve to end up in trash

The World Today Published 30 July 2019 1 minute READ

One reason email is an inefficient form of communication is that it is often completely clogged up with a special sub-species of jargon.

A typical email will begin, after hoping you are well, by ‘reaching out’ to you. At which point the reader is entitled to recoil and to reach for the mouse to click on the next email, thereby breaching the iron law of always replying to emails immediately.

If the reader is made of sterner stuff and perseveres to the body of the text, further attempts are likely to be made to render it unreadable.

There may be references to running an idea up the flagpole, to getting buy-in from stakeholders and to capacity building. Still, the hardiest of us press on. After all, you never know when you might learn something.

Except that, in business emails, we are more likely to be engaged in knowledge transfer and to be presented with a takeaway, or an action point, or a learning (the plural of which is learnings).

The middle of the email will often consist of a list, although it may be called a suite of options, or a package, raft, basket or range of proposals.

Some of these may be suggestions for joined-up working, breaking down silos and turning them into collaborative hubs devoted to exploiting synergies. This is an excellent way to make a step change, a quantum leap or even a transformative change.

If there is a problem, it may be deprecated as ‘not a good look’.

The thing about the problem may well be that ‘it is what it is’, and the fate of those charged with dealing with it may be that ‘we are where we are’.

The best course of action in such circumstances is usually to ensure that, from the get-go, nobody is allowed to ostrich and the issue is taken upstream, preferably on fast forward.

What is also important is to make sure that there is no read across to other parts of the organization that might cause people to circle the wagons.

If things are going really badly, we may have to reboot something that isn’t a computer, or downsize or even resize an operation.

If we have got this far, the sender of the email might ask you to circle back, which is not an invitation to approach the sender’s office by an indirect route.

It is amazing that any business gets done by email at all. Why don’t we all just take part in a webinar instead?