I used to write long emails. When I say long, I mean pages upon pages long. You would have to scroll and scroll and scroll some more to get to the end. This was not every email, just the ones reporting on outcomes or providing instructions on a program I created or when someone asked for clarification.
Then one day, one of my managers after a team meeting pulled me aside. He asked me, “You know those emails you write?”
Not knowing what this was about or where he was going with his question, I replied, “Sure.”
“How do you think your recipients perceive them?” he continued.
“I don’t know, I suppose they find them helpful, no one ever gets back to me with questions.” I still was not sure what he was getting at.
Then he curtly said, “No, they find them infuriating. I find them infuriating.” He paused to let that statement settle in before saying, “No one replies because we are drowning in your emails.”
“Here is some advice. Ready? Just give us the facts. Nothing less, nothing more, and only what we need to take action on.” Then he left as I stood there completely traumatized.
I have learned over the years that less words have more impact than more words. I have come to value the art of editing and the beauty in brevity. I can still get wordy on occasion, but that early lesson is one that continues to guide me to this day.
It was not until I became a manager and later an executive that truly appreciated my manager’s words to me years before. The higher you ascend in an organization, the more your time and attention get pulled in multiple directions. You are constantly getting pulled into meetings, asked for input on projects, and putting out fires, including ones not of your team’s making.
Communications overload is a common challenge in large organizations. When I was at Oracle, I would routinely get added to superfluous email chains just because I was a director. My inbox was a constant disaster, so much so that I got into the practice of immediately deleting all emails that were not directly addressed to me.