One Word Emails

July 21, 2014

At work, a vast majority of the emails I send are just an attachment, with a few words saying what is attached. Probably 90% of my emails read “Proof attached” or just “Attached.” It’s worth noting that these emails are typically to co-workers to whom I have previously sent many other emails, and that I am a stickler for including a descriptive email subject line whenever possible. I think there is little chance that the content of my message isn’t being communicated clearly, but I also wonder, at times, whether or not these succinct emails are being interpreted as being rude. That I shouldn’t spend a few more seconds making the emails personable.

But then I’ll have an email exchange that turns into a labyrinthine rabbit hole of unnecessarily re-hashed details.

Every once in a while, I’ll get an email from a client that wants to confirm that the work I’m doing is on track. I don’t usually see this as an unreasonable request, though at times, the emails become overwrought and seem to based on a fear that I’m not doing my job right, when I’ve given them no reason to think that I’ve done something wrong. If the job is of greater importance than usual, or I had made mistakes in the past, I wouldn’t begrudge you holding my feet to the fire. But if you’re just trying to ramp up the stakes of some pending job, your emails are intrusive and unnecessary.

It is within this context that I often get myself into trouble. I will occasionally get one of these “follow-up” emails that raise long-settled issues that don’t need to be re-litigated. Imagine I am the waiter at a reputable restaurant who has just taken your order. You don’t need to follow-up with me two minutes later to make sure I put the order in. You don’t need to double-check to make sure that your steak will be cooked properly, and you absolutely don’t need to confirm that I will not be bringing you chicken.

But unfortunately, if you send me an email saying that you don’t want chicken, I have a tendency to send a response that points out that we don’t even have chicken on the menu. Which leads to questions about which is better, chicken or pork, and which wine you should drink with salmon. Next thing you know, we have an email chain of 8 back-and-forth messages discussing an issue that didn’t need to be brought up in the first place.

Instead, my original email response should’ve just read “OK.” And if that’s rude, at least I will still have my sanity for one more day.