less-is-moreBrief succinct communication can be much more effective than lengthy explanations and will increase your productivity in the workplace. Emails will have dramatically greater response rates and shorter turnaround times, and when you’re communicating face to face senior stakeholders and executives will listen and understand your message.

A simple example used in this article, Brevity is beautiful, will give you a sudden realisation: Which is easier to understand, z is equal to three times x plus two times y, or z = 3x + 2y?

How to write brief emails

First write out your email and stop before sending it. Critically review the email by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Is the subject specific and meaningful?
  2. If the reader only reads the first sentence, did I get the most important question/action across?
  3. Is the whole email longer than 6 sentences?
  4. Does the email contain more than 1 idea? More than 1 question?
  5. Are there any superfluous words or phrases that can be shortened without losing clarity?

For each question you answered yes to, re-word, cut out or otherwise change the email.

This process means you spend some time revising the email before sending, however it achieves significant results:

  • It shows you respect the reader’s time (their most precious and limited resource)
  • Your reader can easily interpret the message and determine the action required of them and when they need to do it
  • With one idea/question, there’s very little chance the reader will miss something which means less of a need for subsequent back and forth emails
  • Your reader is much less likely to be thinking “ah! it’s too long and hard to understand, I’ll leave it for later” and then completely forget about it resulting in you having to follow up again
  • Useful subject line means the reader can determine their action without opening it and even integrate with a task manager

Remember: the larger or more senior the audience, the more time you should spend crafting your email.

What about face-to-face communication?

If you’re dealing with senior stakeholders take a leaf from this article on Working with Executives.

Understand what drives your business and frame your communications in that context. Anticipate what they’ll be asking you about or think about what you need from them and prepare. Just writing down some bullet points will help you structure what you want to say so that you can get across exactly what you want without taking up much of their time (or yours – remember your time is as valuable as theirs).

Help – even with my brief emails I’m being ignored!

Call them on the phone. Emails can be ignored easily. Even instant messaging can be ignored for hours.

However once your stakeholder hears that ring from their desk phone… that cannot be ignored. They’ll pick up immediately and you save 2 days of waiting for their reply to an email, or 2 hours waiting for them to reply to your instant message.

Even if they weren’t at their desk, once they get back from lunch they’ll see that flashing red light indicating a voicemail is waiting and they won’t be able to stop from checking the voicemail and hopefully also returning your call.

How do you make your communications brief and relevant?