Author’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles advocating that people and their organizations adopt the S.M.A.R.T. Email Credo. The Credo focuses on the sender’s role in the email overload problem. Better sender behavior reduces the time spent by and the stress on recipients when handling email. An explanation of the what and why of the Credo can be read at the beginning of Part 1 here.
What Does the A Stand for?
The A in S.M.A.R.T. stands for Addressing. Effective use of email requires focusing on who your recipients are and where to place them on the recipient list – To, CC or BCC.
Email is a terrific and often effective communication tool. However, its overuse is the cause of email overload. There are several aspects to this overuse, including over-reliance on the tool and misuse of the tool. Focusing on the recipients of the email we send speaks to the misuse aspect. By limiting the recipient list of an email to only those who need the information being transmitted reduces the number of emails received. Fewer emails received equals less overload.
First, a Word About “Looping” People in Via Email
Adding people to email threads, whether from the beginning or mid-stream, can be a highly effective way of keeping a broader group of people up-to-date on activities both inside and out of the organization. However, there’s an insidious side to “looping in.” Many email users hit Reply All or create over inclusive recipient lists in a bid to showcase their efforts or to protect their positions.
Effective users of email understand that performance stands by itself as evidence of completion. Moreover, taking the position that performance requires a “paper trail” is fear-based behavior, which is sad. (Not to mention that the Sent folder is a paper trail.)
Considered application of who to keep informed takes a bit of practice. Yet, if we can reduce the number of recipients that get our emails, we significantly reduce the overall number of emails sent. Fewer emails sent is better for everyone.
Improved Email Addressing Tips
The core objective of email is to communicate with others. Most email applications provide three fields for this communication: To, CC and BCC. Before jumping into how to best utilize each field, let’s consider how the flow of live conversations go in a one-on-one environment and in groups.
In a live one-on-one conversation, the back and forth of the conversation keeps the communication relatively clear. Live group conversations are conducted a bit differently and that’s where we can extract some wisdom. Eye contact and facilitation (keeping track of the topics) are effective tools in live group conversations. We need to apply these methods to group emails when considering how many people to include in the thread and where to place them.
- To: This field should contain only the person or people we are directly addressing in the conversation. This person or group needs the information we are providing. In our group conversation analogy, these are the people with whom we make direct eye contact during the conversation.
- CC: This field is for keeping those who need-to-know in the know. It’s important to think about this, especially when populating this field with internal groups. Asking ourselves whether all these people really need to know about this communication can greatly reduce the amount of internal spam circulating. In our live conversation analogy, these are the people nearby who are overhearing the conversation. Some have a need-to-know, but some don’t. Keeping that in mind when choosing who to populate the CC field with can make email communications more effective.
- BCC*: The BCC recipient is essentially an eavesdropper in our live conversation analogy. This field should almost never be used. First, there are very limited times when a blind copy recipient is necessary in today’s always-on, all-in-the-know world. Second, if a BCC recipient hits Reply All, their response is sent to everyone on the email thread, thereby eliminating the “blind” aspect of this field.
*BCC Alternative: The better practice for keeping third parties informed about an email communication is to CC ourselves (or navigate to the Sent folder) and forward the email just sent to the person we want to keep abreast. Another best practice is to append the subject line and the message itself with an indication that we are just keeping that person in the loop.
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.
By addressing your emails more effectively, your communications will be clearer and require less dissection by your recipients.
Next, we discuss being recipient focused in our email crafting.