18 March 2010
Word count: 760
Estimated reading time: 6-7 minutes
Image by Pe Fung
My earlier post about clear email subject lines has sparked some related questions.
Recently, two readers have raised other concerns about getting email opened and read:
1) My manager only opens email from his superiors – and never opens mine.
2) Senior managers never even open email. Instead their secretaries open and print out email they think their bosses need to see (and the others are delayed or go in the ‘trash’).
These are difficult issues. I have a few suggestions about how to deal with them but would welcome any other ideas you have.
Today, I’ll deal with the first concern – when your manager never opens your email. And next week, we’ll talk about how to make sure senior managers see your email.
My manager only opens email from his superiors – not those from me
I hope your manager doesn’t ignore all your emails just because the ‘from’ column doesn’t have the name of someone senior. If that’s the case, then you have problems I can’t deal with here.
Otherwise, here are a few things to try.
Help him/her manage incoming email
Maybe your boss doesn’t know how to manage a lot of incoming email and doesn’t have a secretary to do that for her. So she only pays attention to email from her superiors. Lots of people just don’t know how to filter or manage information.
In that case I would suggest you go back to the earlier post and use some of the methods we talked about there, in short:
--match the subject line to the real content of the email
--put action statements in the subject line
--put response dates in the subject line.
Warning: Put the most important information at the beginning of the subject line to avoid having it chopped off at the end – particularly for people who check email on an iPhone or Blackberry. (Thanks to reader Frank Liu for this idea!)
Stop expecting immediate action
The instantaneous nature of email has made many of us impatient. Just because we send an email right now doesn’t mean that the recipient has the time to read and act on it in the next five minutes. So adopt realistic expectations and give your manager the time to catch up.
Avoid using the ‘URGENT’ or ‘flaming letter’ icons. Using them too often will make them lose their impact, and they just irritate some people. Also do not use ALL CAPS – since that’s the email equivalent of shouting.
Use a personal touch
If a well-written subject line doesn’t work, then maybe your manager prefers face-to-face (or telephone) communication. Some people respond better to speaking than to writing. So stop by their desk and discuss the issue if that’s possible. Afterwards, send a follow-up email to confirm in writing what you discussed (to cover all bases, even if you think it won’t be read).
Do some name-dropping
If you can, use a senior manager’s name in the subject line. For example: ‘Director Chan’s request for action on our project by Friday’. That might get your manager’s attention long enough to read your email. Of course, you can’t abuse this approach – use it only if the issue really is related to someone senior to your boss.
You might also refer to your company’s strategic goals—something that your manager should be paying attention to. For example: ‘Proposal to boost staff engagement’ or ‘How we can increase sales’.
Use paper and pen. Instead of sending requests or reminders by email, give your manager a hand-written note – or even a post-it note. This personal approach may work.
You can also print out documents you would normally attach to an email and give them to your boss. Maybe write a little note at the top and/or highlight some of the key points.
Warning: If your manager has stacks of paper all over her desk, then forget this idea.
Cover your backside
There are ‘cover your backside’ things that need to be in writing – for example project updates or information about your yearly performance review. So even if your manager doesn’t read emails, put this stuff in writing anyway.
In the words of a Japanese proverb – ‘None of us are as smart as all of us.’
So help us by sharing your suggestions in the comments below on how to deal with this issue.