The R in S.M.A.R.T. stands for Recipient Focused. Effective use of e-mail requires focusing on how your recipients will receive your e-mail and what they need to know to be fully informed by it. We might term this empathetic sending because we need to put ourselves in the recipient’s shoes to ensure we are communicating effectively with them.
Transferring the information in our heads to our recipient is difficult in any medium. Leaving out important context, background information, and companion information leaves the recipient without all the pieces of the puzzle. Including the pertinent information increases the effectiveness of our communication and reduces the inefficient back-and-forth required when clarification is needed.
E-mail is particularly susceptible to the risk of insufficient supporting information. It’s a silent form of communication—the thoughts we are communicating start in our head and transfer to our fingers. Our fingers will never work as quickly as our thoughts do. Thus, there is the inherent risk of information loss along the way. Moreover, we treat e-mail as a quick form of communication, and quick does not guarantee effective or inclusive.
Second, e-mail is largely asynchronous. We send the e-mail now, but the recipient may not see it for hours or even days. The time gap is another point of potential failure in the communication thread. Additional information may come to light in the interim. Time-sensitive tasks may go undone. There are many risks inherent in asynchronous communications. Including as much information as possible in the initial e-mail is one way to minimize these risks.
Finally, e-mail is a black-and-white medium of exchange. Everything is placed into unspoken words. There are no surrounding clues—such as tone of voice and body language—providing additional information about the communication. Often, the sender’s meaning is not what the reader interprets. This is particularly true if useful information is not included up front.
Tips for Improving the Focus on the Recipient
A great e-mail is one that delivers all the information a recipient needs in the initial send. Several easy tricks can help you maximize that possibility.
a. Getting to the Point. Define the point of the e-mail at the very beginning, including in the subject line. What’s in it for the recipient? If it’s a request, make the request. If it’s a directive, give the directive. If it’s an update, say as much. Once the point has been clearly defined, the remaining information can follow. The advantage to making the point up front is that the reader now knows the destination.
b. The Rest of the Story. Before hitting Send, make sure all necessary attachments are attached and that (correct) links are embedded for any referenced materials. Also, review the e-mail for any missing information—information that was in your head while writing but is clearly missing from the e-mail. Adding the context and background information—via attachment, link, or additional text—will reduce the need for additional communications via replying and responding.
c. Provide Necessary Contact Information. Finish each e-mail with pertinent contact information for you and anyone else the recipient may need to communicate with to complete the work contained in the e-mail. A recipient who has all the tools necessary to do the job will get the job done faster and better. Moreover, they are less likely to unnecessarily consume the sender’s time in the process.
By focusing on the recipient’s needs in your e-mails, your communications will be more complete. A well-informed recipient is a productive one.
What Can I Do?
- You can be part of the solution.
- You can adopt one or more of the suggestions above.
- You can promote these suggestions to others on your team and in your organization.
Next, we discuss time usage when using e-mail.