Similarly, I cannot endorse this theory when its advocates are unable to comprehend something as simple as a four-sentence, four-paragraph email message.
I don't want to sound harsh or shrill, but the same communications gaffes that I saw back in the 1990s are still commonplace today. When mistakes persist, there's room for improvement.
Some colleagues insist that hectic schedules cause their messy messages — particularly those that read like gibberish. Interestingly enough, their email messages are the same quality whether the sender was running to catch a flight or parked on a couch during a pandemic stay-at-home order. Go figure.
A similar mystery concerns people who refuse to read — or perhaps are incapable of reading — an entire email message. I wish this was a joke but it is not.
I have reached the point where I consciously and severely limit the messages I send to some people. For instance, I may compose a maximum of just three short paragraphs with one sentence per paragraph. That's it.
Nonetheless, some recipients appear to be unwilling or unable to read and comprehend a message comprised of three short sentences.
I am addressing their needs with a customized or "retro" version of mass-communications technology. The first element of this retro maneuver entails calling the person until they finally answer the telephone.
The second element is insisting that the person retrieve a pencil and notepad.
The third aspect is dictating a message patiently to this person that I ordinarily would send via email. (Recipients who have scribbled down the material correctly will be able to recite the information right back to me.)
Read slowly, thoroughly
At the risk of overstating the obvious, I urge email users to read each and every message completely. Yes, this means reading the message from start to finish.
It's impossible to reap the benefits from an email if you refuse to read the entire message. On the one hand, some emails may be too long for our liking.
On the other hand, an email message could be somewhat long — longer than expected — due to the volume of information it contains. The potential trade-off for a quick, detailed response may be a relatively long message.
Imagine that this exercise consumes three or four minutes of your busy day. Please look me in the eyes and convince me that focusing on an important message for 180 to 240 consecutive seconds is too difficult for you.
Or, please convince me that committing, say, 240 seconds of undivided attention to a vendor's or co-worker's email is unmanageable.
Over the years, I have encountered people in auto service businesses who seem to be mentally lazy or else suffer from a reading disorder of some sort.
Whether the material appears on a computer monitor or a printed page, these people struggle to digest and comprehend the printed word.
For example, it's revealing when someone stumbles over a printed article or an email message. Then a co-worker or subordinate breezes through the very same material and promptly summarizes its key points to me.
When a person is battling a reading disorder, he or she may be very reluctant to admit it — let alone seek out a remedial reading program of some kind.
Routinely composing well-thought emails enhances the chances of communicating successfully with your audience.
That said, the bitter truth is that well-composed emails may help a lazy or troubled reader so much and no more. Recognize that limitation.
Meanwhile, evaluate each incoming email for shortcomings such as confusing instructions, inadequate details, etc. Then carefully compose a response that focuses on these very specific concerns. I will return to composing messages in a moment.
Print out the message
Sometimes you can ease the task of digesting longer emails simply by printing them out. No matter how user-friendly a computer monitor may be, I still prefer to read some emails — especially longer, more-detailed messages — from a sheet of paper.
I have worked with many people who prefer printouts to compute monitors or cellular telephone screens. If someone reads and comprehends something better from paper, recognize the situation and embrace the practice.
(For what it's worth, I never proofread anything on a computer screen. I "proof" much more accurately when I work from a printed page.)
Anyway, some employees may consider an email printed on paper as a welcome respite from untold hours staring at a computer screen.
Of course, printing some emails consumes energy, paper and ink. However, I rank the method as a prudent investment whenever it renders a more-readable message.
A manager may question the cost of printing out some emails. In that case, I will ask a boss to quantify the actual cost of the additional electricity, paper and ink — and its impact on the business' bottom line.
Compose clearly, simply
I cannot and would not attempt to present a basic writing class in the span of several paragraphs here, but surely I can coach you about avoiding common gaffes that downgrade any message — especially an email.
Always remember that an effective email resembles any well-written or spoken message: It conveys your intentions as clearly and simply as practically possible.
To put it another way, successful emails do not create confusion. For instance, an effective email answers a colleague's or customer's question(s) clearly and specifically.
Pay attention to the particular topic as well as the intended recipient. Experience may dictate that the most effective email response may be urging this colleague or customer to chat on the telephone.
One reason to prioritize the telephone over additional emails may be the complexity of a topic. Another may be the recipient's track record of misunderstanding or ignoring your previous email messages.
Still another reason could be the delicacy of the subject matter. ("You think the owner's kid was sneaking tires out the back door again?") Sometimes the need for discretion may dictate telephone responses instead of emails.
Before I wrap up this column, I will cite a simple example of a clear, helpful email versus a vague, unhelpful one. Full disclosure: The example of the unhelpful email happens to be one I have encountered multiple times over the last 10 years or so.
Imagine that your tire dealership is hosting a trade fair of some sort at a local warehouse. This site has a main entrance facing the street as well as loading docks, access ramps and multiple doors on the building.
My pal, a vendor's representative who is supporting the trade fair, invited me to tag along to the event. But we're unfamiliar with this particular site.
I email our contact at the company, describe our payload and ask which side of the building offers easiest access to the fair. "Yes," is the one-word response to my email.
This not only is a useless, vague and curt reply, it's also extra ignorant on this late afternoon because one squall upon another has been sweeping the area. The wind buffets our van; the downpours are intense; and the lightning is scary.
In similar situations, I have received the reply, "It is what it is!" Forget for the moment that this is a classically useless, non-specific response. It's also unprofessional and flippant.
How much time and effort would it take to email this advice: When facing the front entrance, loading docks are on the left side of building. Back up to door number 3. Blow horn twice.
This second example is an email that is easy to write as well as easy to read. It's very brief and very clear. It's quite helpful because its information is so highly detailed and specific.
What's more, this email response sounds professional as well as friendly. Therefore, it's a winner on all counts.
I have authored my share of stinker emails. Learn from your mistakes.
But overall, patiently reading each email and then thoughtfully composing each response will minimize the gaffes that cause confusion and waste time.
And higher-quality emails earn respect, too.
Dan can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] His previous columns are available at www.tirebusiness.com.