How to Respond to Annoying Emails
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Given I have four kids under seven years old, a business, and now a formerly stray Turkish Angora cat who ambushed me on the way to the grocery store, I am under siege 100% of the time. Somewhere along the line, I learned to command the army just like Joan of Arc.
To win more respect with prospects and clients, learn how to handle their annoying emails better using my three-question email test.
One idea at a time
To get prospects to fall in love with you, you have to fall out of love with your own voice first. This is going to be hard, because your dream conversation is you droning on and on like a bullhorn without bothering to notice if anyone cares what you’re saying.
Get out of that habit!
To simplify your communications, don’t just cut down the words. It’s about conveying fewer ideas in smaller bites. You can only convey only one idea at a time if you want people to get it.
Stop trying to sound intelligent
Sorry to deflate your ego, but you have chosen a career in which how intelligent you are matters way less than how clearly you communicate your thoughts. If you don’t believe me, look at who the reporters (other than those writing for Advisor Perspectives) in this profession interview and you’ll see these are clearly not the A students.
This is the Siege of Orleans, not the modern edition of Don Quixote. Yes, this is depressing for smart people to accept. If you want intellectual stimulation, go listen to Brian Keating’s podcast. But don’t expect it from this job.
Clarity matters more than intelligence, because you have chosen a role that hinges on your communication skills. This occupation is about feelings, not logic.
Use the minimum number of words
Now that we are all communicating via devices, we’ve forgotten that there is a living person on the other end of the line. Make it easy on them and stop dumping.
Anytime you are talking to someone, use the minimum number of words possible. Try not to go over two sentences because after the second sentence, people stop reading.
Use the three-question email test
When someone sends you an annoying email full of overwhelming nonsense, ask yourself these three questions before you respond:
- What is the conflict, misunderstanding, or issue I need to resolve?
- What action(s) do I want the person to take?
Yes, you have to tell them what to do. Don’t assume the person will figure anything out themselves. Also, it’s good to provide a few options, so you avoid making them mad if you guessed wrong.
- What clutter can I delete from this email and still have it say the same thing? Remember, shorter email is better.
Example of how to apply the three-question email test
Here’s a hypothetical example of how the email exchanges tend to go between me and kids’ teachers.
I keep sending crackers and extra clothes to school, but they keep coming back home in Gunjan (not my kid’s real name)’s bookbag. Also, I’m concerned she is not eating enough as she seems hungry when she gets off the bus. -Sara Grillo
I see the crackers and her clothes are in her cubby. The assistant teacher put them there. So as for tomorrow and moving forward, if she doesn’t like something as far as the lunch she will vocally tell the teachers but to make sure she’s getting the proper amount of lunch I was told to ask can the parents pack food that she will enjoy. You can contact me at anytime as well as Ms. Ramirez whom I spoke with earlier. Thank you in advance. Hope you have a great day.
This is clearly an annoying email. How does it measure up to the three-question email test?
- It fails to resolve the conflict
This email fails to respond to my two questions. She tells me she sees the crackers – but where? And clothes are in the cubby but gives no reassurance that they won’t be coming back home. It’s confusing.
She also fails to tell me how much my kid is eating at school. In fact, all that is conveyed is that my kid complains when she doesn’t like the food given. Unsatisfying response.
She attempts to resolve the conflict by shoving off the responsibility onto me. Great, thanks for giving me more work to do! And an extra expense to boot!
- It provides a wrongful call to action
She does outline a clear action for me to take, but it comes across as bossy. It would have been better to provide a few options in case I didn’t like the one that she proposed.
- It contains clutter
The phrase, “vocally tell the teacher,” is redundant. People use redundant, cluttering expressions all the time.
- You need a financial plan before you make a major, life-changing decision. (Tell me about a major decision that didn’t change your life?)
- The market crashes quickly when sentiment changes. (Have you ever seen something crash in slow motion?)
- In today’s breaking financial news (what news isn’t breaking?)
She tells me to contact her. Nobody ever needs to be reminded to ask questions. Have you ever, even once, emailed a client and then had them respond with, “You know, Winifred, I have a question about this but I’m not sure it’s okay to ask you even though you’re my financial advisor that I pay $12,000 a year and have entrusted my whole entire life savings, family history, and all our social security numbers to!”
And then she tells me to have a great day. Useless. I’ll try, but I’ll be a lot busier than I thought as I’ll be dragging my kids off to the supermarket so we can pick up some Lunchables and a Moana yogurt six pack!
This annoying email failed the three-question test.
How to pass the three-question test: An example
Here’s the same email, written in a less vexing way.
The crackers and clothes are stored in Gunjan’s cubby and will remain with us at school from now on.
During meal times, Gunjan consumes about half of the meal presented. I would suggest that either you send her to school with a backup lunch, or we can figure out a default meal to be served to her if she doesn’t like what’s being served on any particular day.
Either way, I’ll keep an eye out…and email you if I see the trend worsening.
You can see that:
- The two questions I asked are directly answered.
- She clearly outlines two options and acknowledges that it is her responsible to make sure the problem gets solved.
- No clutter at the end.
This email would have passed the three-question test.
Use these email tools to help you pass the three-question test.
When you are writing to someone who is reading on a smart phone, block text is too overwhelming. Use my two-sentence rule and avoid paragraphs any longer than two sentences.
Ellipsis creates a dramatic pause that emphasizes the key information.
An ellipsis inserts the necessary break in thought that allows us to breathe and feel refreshed just before the key is given. Use ellipsis towards the end of a communication to deliver the grand finale.
The semi-colon is an underutilized grammatical tool. Notice in the passage above it delivers the point of contrast that Gunjan usually eats well, but not all the time.
After I write the email, I read it and say, “What can I delete without the email losing its meaning?” Then I slash something.
I’d love to write more, but I have to go talk to (lol) Antonio for putting the air conditioner on too high. I’m going to sleep now, here are more tools that can help you.
Every LinkedIn message in this e-book is two sentences or less.
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Sara Grillo, CFA, is a marketing consultant who helps investment management, financial planning, and RIA firms fight the tendency to scatter meaningless clichés on their prospects and bore them as a result. Prior to launching her own firm, she was a financial advisor.
All characters in this article are fictional in nature. Any similarity to individuals, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.