A friend of mine studies Ancient Greek. When he says “It’s Greek to me!”…well, that means he totally understands it.
Communication can be like that. Sometimes we think we are being so clear, or that something is so obvious. I’ve learned that one of the ways we can show courtesy and respect is by assuming nothing, and making next steps, deadlines, or simply our wishes plainly obvious.
Sharing with you below some tips that have helped minimize email miscommunications. By the way — they also increase efficiency.
1. Use highly descriptive subject lines. If something is TIME SENSITIVE or FYI only (not requiring action), state that at the beginning of the subject line. The best subject lines make it very easy for the recipient to reply and prioritize their work relative to your request..
2. State deadlines clearly, i.e. ‘please send XYZ over to me by 12 noon Central next Thurs. (DATE).’ Or, “please post that file on Basecamp/Slack by 6 p.m. Eastern tomorrow (Wednesday).”
3. Assume nothing. Not stating time zones is a great example. If you haven’t stated a deadline, and someone involved is in another time zone, you’ve just contributed to potential miscommunication at best, and a missed deadline and headache at worst.
4. Similarly, err on the side of specificity. EOD (end of day) may have different meanings to other team members or subcontractors. Same with “as soon as you can get to it” or “when you get a chance.” If something isn’t urgent, consider setting a deadline a week or two out.
5. Acknowledge boundaries (and when they are being pushed). For example if you’re requesting a rush job say “I know this is late notice — are you able to x.” And on the other side of the communication it may be appropriate to say “I typically don’t do rush jobs but can this one time.”
6. When a deadline has passed, the most efficient and effective way to follow up is simply by forwarding the original email with the words “2nd request” added to the otherwise unchanged subject lines. Works like a charm.