Episode 12 – Writing Emails
Ravi: Hi welcome to episode number 12 of Spontaneous Conversations. I’m going to do it reverse and I’m here to introduce Rajesh Setty, serial entrepreneur and author.
Ravi: Okay, this was spontaneous also, by the way. So, the topic we chose today is something we do thousands of times in a week. It’s about writing emails.
Ravi: So, Rajesh, you took the topic and hit the record button so tell me what was going on in your head?
Rajesh: Yeah, so anyway, we picked the topic five seconds before, so I’m as raw as you are. But writing emails is a powerful way of communicating, people get emails all the time. I’ve talked about it a lot for a long time because I write a lot of emails. And one of the things that I just came to the conclusion is that sometimes writing a good email, may not even mean that you should write that email because a lot of things are said right in person or on the phone. Because emails, it’s very difficult to carry the emotions along with it, and you don’t know what the other person, especially bad news, something like a conflicting thing, something that you want to make sure that you are saying it in the right method, email may not be the right communication. Although the topic is writing good emails, I always want to say that, while it’s very easy to write an email, always think before you write that email. Is this a phone conversation? Is it an in-person conversation? Or can it be done by email? That’s my first opening question, opening question.
Ravi: Very, very interesting because what’s going on in my mind is – let’s talk about communication, because email is a communication platform, there are multiple elements to it, right? What is it that you are saying? To whom you are saying it? How you are saying it? And when you are saying it. All four are equally important. Now, all four sentiments can be best captured and best communicated in a in-person reaction. You can look into the eye of a person; you can pick a time when the other person is ready to receive and you can say it with love, or you can say it with some seriousness. But unfortunately, email can only communicate two of them. Like who is saying it, to whom it is going, it does not have any sense of time. The other person can read the email at a time they’re really unhappy, end of the day and they get so upset by what you say when you don’t mean it. So, an email doesn’t always carry all the attributes of a good communication.
Rajesh: I totally agree. Especially, a thing like expressing your anger. You always have to be extremely careful not to use email as a communication medium because what I have found out and there are a lot of research on this is that when somebody gets a very irritating email or bad email, something that is accusatory or anything, they won’t read it once. It’s like a movie that they’re playing again and again and again [crosstalk 03:21].
Ravi: Ah, they go back and read it and so the anger keeps building. [laughs]
Rajesh: Exactly, it’s like instead of punching the person once, you set up a subscription program to punch them again and again and again.
Ravi: Yeah, and so, you talked about the importance, because it’s easy to do, it doesn’t give you the right to do it.
Rajesh: You have to be thoughtful about it.
Ravi: You have to be thoughtful about it and if it can be done with a communication, with a phone call, or if can be done, you get up from your desk and go to somebody and talk, why write an email?
Ravi: And sometimes I’ve seen people who do ‘reply all’ and whole thing, it causes chaos and everybody out of context start reading it, not only you’re wasting their time, the somebody is reading something that they’re not supposed to be reading. It completely puts them on a different track, and it affects their productivity. You have not, essentially done a good job versus just walking across the office to speak with somebody or just getting on a phone call.
Rajesh: Totally agreed. So, a few more things about writing good emails. I’m a very big stickler for good subject lines. Why? Because nowadays, people read emails on their phones, and sometimes I get an email with the subject line hi. And then I don’t know what to do with it. And there’s another subject line, meet Tuesday 10 am, okay, question mark Now, there is a specific, there’s already a lot that subject line is saying. But hi, I have no idea.
Ravi: Yeah subject is very extremely important because, like you rightly said, we open emails that the subjects look interesting. Or if you’re a real loser, you’re opening all the emails, which is bad. It’s really bad; you’re being very, very unproductive.
Rajesh: There’s a caveat on the topic, I think you will agree with me on this, we open emails first, based on who is sending it. More than the subject line, that’s the pecking order, right? Suppose you send me an email and a random blog reader sends an email, I respect all of them, but I don’t know them. But I know you, and I know that you would have taken care to make sure that it’s an important email that I need to pay attention. I will always pick your email. I will get to the blog reader’s email, of course, I will get to it, but in the pecking order, you’re ranked first. That’s the first thing. Within the people that you already know, then the subject line becomes important because that shows what this email is about. Should I read it now? Should I read it later? I have to decide that because you don’t have unlimited time to process all the emails.
Ravi: Exactly and I think that – so some aspects that I have followed Rajesh, I think the good emails should definitely have a very strong subject line and they should address the person saying, you know, “dear Rajesh” or “hi Rajesh” or something. Have a very nice greeting and then immediately come to the point as to why you’re writing that email, saying look, it was awesome to meet with you, and I’m looking forward to having the next conversation. So, get to the point really, really quickly, in less than four, five lines and always – don’t leave the email – especially if you’re writing an email to somebody who is senior and more experienced than you, don’t just leave the email with asking something. Because otherwise, they think, why should I even respond to this email?
Rajesh: Yeah, yeah, good point. Just to close out on the subject line, there is also a tendency for people to take any email and make it any other email. Meaning that they’d be starting the subject with ‘when can we meet for lunch?’ And the as we…’by the way, I was supposed to return that book to you. I’ll return it later.” And somehow you respond to it, and they say ‘are you also available for a movie next weekend?’ and it’s the same with ‘when can we meet for lunch’ would be the subject line but the email has transformed itself into a beast. And then after some time, you don’t know what this email is about, and you’re searching for something, and you’re lost. That’s why always in more than one exchange, if the subject of the email changes, subject line has to change.
Ravi: Yeah, I know, some people just leave the subject line as is and it goes on for 18, 19 different conversations and that case can be very annoying and I think another good rule is every email transaction or communication tread is focused on addressing one situation. [crosstalk 08:03 inaudible] …instead of multiple situations in one single email.
Rajesh: Yeah, and there is another reason for keeping the email very self-contained. Why? Because – I’ll give you an example, suppose I want to ask you to introduce me to someone, right. This… Ravi, you know Bob, I would like to meet with him, and these are the reasons why Bob would be interested in meeting with him.’ And then I say, ‘by the way; I saw this wonderful movie called [inaudible 08:32]. Now, you’re in a stuck; you want to introduce me to Bob. Let’s say you want to forward that email to Bob and say this my friend Raj, wants to meet with you. Now I would think, ‘what is this [indiscernible foreign language 08:44]? It’s not even an English movie.’ [inaudible 08:52] you’re going to doctor that email and say remove everything.
Ravi: Yeah, you’re wasting time, right?
Rajesh: Exactly, so that’s why I always think, if there is a third party involved, assume that it will be forwarded and make sure that it’s a forward-ready email.
Ravi: It’s a forward-ready email, that’s very, very good because that’s… so I think you make an interesting point that the metaphor in my mind is one of an ad hoc. Every email has one target, whether it’s a target expectation, target doesn’t do an expecting. That is this email will produce an output that confirms a time to meet, that confirms a particular strategy that you’re taking, whether it’s good or not. So, every email should be about an ad hoc you cannot throw [inaudible 09:39] an ad hoc, right?
Rajesh: Very very nicely said. I’ll give you another thing that has worked very well for me. Because I introduce a lot of people, there are people; sometimes they have to be coached as to how to ask for an introduction, so sometimes they say, hey, can you make an introduction to Ravi? I always respond back and sometimes I just call them, or I just use the phone, record a message and then send that message back and say, ‘that’s great. I would be happy to introduce you, I know you both, but send me a separate email. Make the subject line ‘Request an email intro to Ravi.’ And put a semi colon and say why. And then say something about you, what’s in it for you? What’s in it for them? I want this email to be so good that if I forward it to Ravi, he should say, ‘men, you’re giving me a gift with this introduction, I would love to meet this person.’ So, make the other person do the work and send me a forward, ready email so that I can make my life simple and that results in multiple benefits. One of the things is it’s not a one-time benefit I get, next time they already know if they are asking for an introduction, what kind of an email they should send. [crosstalk]
Ravi: Oh, so you’re setting an expectation, that you cannot just simply ask, they know what Rajesh needs and also you’re also kind of setting a good habit in other people because you want them to do the work, right? And a good email also is very transparent, correct? They’re saying, ‘hey look, I want to meet, you know, Jason and I read this book, there are some things that I feel very strongly that are very synergistic, which is why I want to meet with Jason — oh by the way, I’m also looking for inviting Jason to one of our events.’ So, there’s something very clear that you know why I want that introduction. So that it’d make you saying, okay, Ravi has given this, has done his homework.
Rajesh: Totally, beautifully said. I always say that a transformation has to happen from an opportunistic cost to an opportunity. So that is very good introduction happens, and email is the best way to do it because it’s low cost and Jason can say, no, I don’t want to meet with Ravi, the timing is not right. The project is not interesting or anything. Or he might say, love it, just introduce me. When can I talk to him? Right? That depends on how much work you have done. For somebody that [inaudible 12:06] It becomes my responsibility to make sure that we think through it and say that at this time without good work done and preparation. It’s an opportunity cost for Jason. With preparation, it’s an opportunity for Jason.
Ravi: Opportunity cost versus opportunity. Ohhhh,
Rajesh: The preparation eliminates the cost from the opportunity cost.
Ravi: The cost is on you, basically, right? You know, it’s very interesting thing, let’s draw a parallel with what happens in real life? Let’s say I walk up to you and say, ‘hey Rajesh, I want to meet… again let’s use the word, Jason. First question I’m going to ask you is why?
Rajesh: I will ask the first question, what’s in it for Jason.
Ravi: Yeah. First even why? Why do you want to meet that person because I just want to know, so although in the real world, we don’t just randomly connect people? Such people been that would become successful connectors, by the way. There are some people who [inaudible 13:05] Oh you want that person, that person. Now, If the person is really of high value and caliber, the amount of credibility that they will give to you is going to be very low. Because you’re randomly sending people to him, beyond the [inaudible 13:17], just ignore that email, right? Now, I have met some amazing people because of your amazing quality of making introductions. You always want to make it good, make it meaningful for the other person. You will say, Jason, you will love, it will be beneficial to you to meet Ravi. Even though Ravi wants to meet Jason, you make it a point to Jason to say, not only is Ravi wants to meet with you Jason, Jason, you will actually be better by meeting with Ravi, and that’s what makes, Rajesh, you so special in the kinds of networks you have built. Because every introduction that you made to me, have turned out to be beautiful, mutually beneficial connections.
Rajesh: Yeah. The way I always look at it, Ravi, is I take a lifetime view. If I connect two people for the rest of their lives, could they do something that would make it better for each other for the rest of their lives?
Ravi: Hmm, it’s sort of a transaction connection.
Rajesh: Yeah. Now getting back to the emails and I’ll give some more tips that has worked for me. First is NRR, this is something that I learned from someone, it’s NO RESPONSE REQUIRED. So, you have to you have to use it all the time when you send — forward something, you say, this is an FYI No Response Required. That means I sent it to you. You don’t have to say thank you for sending this — more work for the other person, it just says, okay, delete it. It’s FYI, done. That’s another one. Second, times-zones and times very important. Like yesterday morning I received an email saying, ‘do you have time to meet tomorrow?’ And I looked at the timestamp, it’s 12:44 am. [crosstalk 14:58].
Ravi: The standard issue, right?
Rajesh: Standard issue. So, I just point that to them. ‘Just to clarify, did you mean today, Wednesday or tomorrow, Thursday?’ So and then, I always teach them so next time they send email to somebody else, make sure that there is no confusion because of Joe Polish, one of my favorite podcasters. He’s a brilliant connector; he always said that, in one of his episodes, he said ‘Communication is definitely about making sure that the other person understands. More importantly, the communication is something that the other person cannot misunderstand.’
Ravi: Hmm, that’s really key, right? Because misunderstanding can lead to all kinds of consequences. Missed meetings, missed intentions. People can get upset, so I think if each of us, I mean there are, I guess two billion people sending emails every day. If each of us sent one less email, I think the effect that it would have on productivity of so many other people in the world will be just amazing. So next time I want, when closing what I want, some listeners to think about is, if you want to start writing an email, just take five seconds and think, should I actually call the person or just walk over and talk to them or introduction, sending an email. So just ask that question, and you will find amazing beauty when you don’t have to actually email and go meet that person or have a conversation.
Rajesh: Beautiful. My closing comment is ask another question before sending that email. Is this particular email going to create an opportunity cost for the recipient, or going to create an opportunity for the recipient? Once that gets drilled into your head that I want to create opportunities, I don’t want to be an opportunity cost, the way you will craft that email, the way you will think before you craft that email, the way you will approach life will be very different. Email is just a communication tool, like you said, but it’s a word life because there are communications happening. Transactions are happening. The transformation is ahead, I don’t want to create an opportunity cost in other people’s lives, and email is the fastest way to create it because you are priority becomes their obligation. So, in fact, not only I don’t want to create an opportunity cost. I want to create opportunities in people’s lives, and then the way you will write the emails will be very different.
Ravi: Extremely well said Rajesh, again, just want to say that emails are very good for very transactional items, but conversations are good for transformational situations, so emails don’t build relationships whereas conversations do,
Rajesh: Yeah, I would say this too, because we don’t want to leave the topic undebated is basically, if you’re thoughtful, you can create value in any medium. Like suppose I read a book about Kathy Sierra and then said Ravi, you are building mentor Cloud, this is going to change the life of mentor Cloud because I read something brilliant from Kathy, you need to know this, here’s a paragraph. I know you don’t have the time to read it but just read this and reflect on it and things will happen. We created value? The idea is in our heads, whatever be the medium, it has to be about creating value, not be an opportunity cost, but be an opportunity and then things will change.
Ravi: Yeah, in fact, I’m thinking, could the e be used to represent enhancement?
Ravi: Enrichment, it’s not electronic mail, it’s enrichment mail, enriched mail, empowering mail, so let’s reflect on the e in future conversation.
Rajesh: Beautiful. So should we sign off?
Ravi: Yes, signing off Ravi Gundlapalli. Thank you for listening, founder CEO of Mentor Cloud dot com and Rajesh?
Rajesh: Signing off Rajesh Setty, I’m a serial entrepreneur in [indiscernible 19:12]. More about me at blog Rajesh Setty dot com slash blog.
Ravi: Thank you.
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