Having entered the full-time workforce almost two years ago now, I can now safely say that roughly 84% of successfully operating in the corporate sphere has to do with the art of the business (or as my friends on D-block would say, “bidness”) email.
You may think that your sharp analytic skills, your Machevellian worldview, or your detailed knowledge of finance or politics or marketing or PR or whateverthehell is what will get you into that corner office, but I’m here to tell you that it mostly comes down to how well you express yourself through the most opaque medium ever created: Microsoft Outlook 2007.
First, a cautionary tale. Never get the lines of communications tangled when you’re dealing with two 6 year-old nuggets with names like Porky and Buckwheat:
Now that we have our obligatory clip of a classic late 90s movie out of the way, allow me to break down the art of the email for ya’ll:
“Dear” is for notes to your grandparents on what activities you’re enjoying most at summer camp. “Hey” is for 15 year old chickenheads signing yearbooks. “Hello” is for grandparents responding to your camp letter and reporting that they too excelled in archery back in 1829.
Keep it simple. You can never go wrong with ___Name____,
If you are really, truly enthusiastic about something – “we signed a new client!” – or even genuinely shocked – “there’s a racoon in the copy room!” – I’ll give you a pass on the exclamation point. But even then, never ever ever use more than one in a single email. You don’t want to be this guy:
Great to hear from you!!! Glad you landed safely, the weather was such a mess in Cleveland yesterday! Let me know if you need any further clarification on those numbers I sent over this morning, I’m glad to help! Looking forward to receiving your feedback!
Yours truly 😉
I know how easy it is to get lost in the black hole that is corporate jargon. You don’t see it coming and then all of a sudden WHOOSH! you sound so much like the boss from Office Space that you can’t even have a conversation with your pet cat Mitsy without promising that you’ll “follow up by C.O.B” on that new flavor of Fancy Feast she’s had her eye on.
Here’s a tip: Write down the list below. Tape it to your computer monitor at work. And every time you use one of these terms, just know that another little piece of your soul just died.
- circle back
- out of pocket
- reach out
- outside the box
- herding cats
- touch base
- talk offline
- circle the wagons
- going/moving forward
- push back
- close the loop
- get aligned
- ask (as in “what’s the ask here?”)
- drill down
- gain traction
- level set
- looping in
- next steps
- ramp up
4) iPhone Typos.
Just because you have a little line in your signature that says “Excuse the typos, sent from my iPhone” does NOT mean that you are allowed to send work emails that look like they’re straight out of Flowers for Algernon. Either wait until you’re back at your desk, take the extra 2.5 seconds to get it right, or don’t send the email.
I understand your plight… I have a bad case of carny hands! They’re small and pudgy and often clammy for no reason. The pads of my thumbs were simply not meant to type more than “sup” “whatevs” and “haaaaaaa” on a touchscreen.
But when your email looks like it could be a winner on Damn You Autocorrect, you’ve got problems.
5) Signing off.
I concede that there was a time when I signed letters with “Best.” It was a dark time, and I don’t like to talk about it.
What’s the problem with signing off with “Best” you ask? I’ll tell you what the problem is. Best, I’ll have you know, is an ADJECTIVE. ADJECTIVES modify NOUNS. Without NOUNS adjectives mean SQUAT.
Best fig newtons? Best beach umbrellas? Best hand sanitizer? I love lamp? IT’S NONSENSE!
Just like your salutation, live by the words of the great Isaac Mizrahi when wrapping up your emails: fussy, finished. Write down your name, leave out the “fond regards,” and hit send. Like so: