In a caustic age of casually scathing public rhetoric, great organizational cultures are built one edifying communication at a time. It is the case that good emails accrue their cultural benefits slowly and incrementally, but bad emails can extract their cultural deficits rapidly and semi-permanently. So the skill of writing good, kind emails is an important one that directly impacts the long-term flourishing potential of our schools.
Here are some tips for sending good, kind emails.
- First, ask if you need to email it. Lots of times we send impulsive or lazy messages. Inboxes are places of anxiety, addiction, or both, for everybody. Those are bad. So sometimes, consider taking the extra minute or two to walk down the hall, or consider writing it on a note and letting it wait until the end of the day. At that time, you’ll be clearer on whether it really needs to be sent.
- But there is one kind of email you should bias yourself toward impulsively sending. Encouraging emails are the best. Sending them (or delivering these kinds of brief, direct messages in person) trains the mind and heart to hone in on this kind of thing in others. Practice this discipline for a few years and your words will literally start to breathe life into people. These kinds of emails look like:
- Mr. Cooper, today in class a student said to me in the hallway how much she appreciated your teaching last year. I could tell she really meant it. I thought that was cool.
- Jeremy, I just want you to know that I appreciate the work you’ve done with X this year. It’s evidence-based, it’s bold, and I can already sense its impact on students. Thank you. Keep after it.
- If the email you’re thinking of sending ends with “thoughts?” probably don’t send it. Instead, do the thinking yourself. In one group I’m involved in, we’ve resolved to only send the following kinds of emails. Notice the clear purpose behind each kind. Disciplining ourselves to these email types has led to significant improvements in both our quality of life outside of meetings and our quality of life inside of them:
- Proposals — These are researched, clearly articulated explanations of a course of action that we would like the greater group to think on and ask clarifying questions about (prior to the meeting), and then discuss and decide on (at the next meeting during which the discussion can be scheduled).
- Weekly summaries — These include sub-sections of What I’m Wrestling With Right Now, What’s Coming Down the Pike, and Who Needs to Know.
- Encouragements — These are articles, studies, or epiphanies we’ve encountered that we think would build up the greater group.
- Vaguely purposed emails are bad. That’s a seemingly redundant encapsulation of the previous point. But it’s good to be repetitive about important points. Great leaders and thinkers aim for goldilocks repetition — not so repetitive as to be annoying, but not so brief as to be forgettable.
- Use smiley faces. A huge amount of smart people feel that emojis in emails are unprofessional. But it depends on how we view professionalism. If warmth is a part of professionalism, then generous use of the 🙂 is very professional. Tone is notoriously hard to detect in emails. So, smile.
- Be brief. For action-oriented emails, be direct and communicate care. For many work-related emails, just do two things. It can literally take two sentences.
- What do you need?
- I need the team to do this.
- I need this form filled out by these people.
- Communicate care.
- Thanks for being a great team to work with.
- I love you guys.
- I appreciate your work.
- I hope you have a good and restful weekend.
- What do you need?
- Don’t mass forward unless that’s the main kind of emailing you intend to do. If you become the person who mass forwards everything that’s a neat opportunity, then you’re going to train people like me to auto-archive most of your emails. Maybe create a free Mailchimp newsletter instead, ask people who are interested to “opt-in” at the next staff meeting, and then study the open and click-through rates to determine if your mass-forwarding efforts are actually reaping fruit. It’s not that forwarding is never good — I won a $10,000 research grant once because of a forward that a colleague sent me, and I went to Germany free of charge another time because of a different forward from a different colleague. Those experiences shaped me and catapulted my work, and that work has since affected countless people. It just means you should forward wisely, and the more targeted you can be about it the better.
- If the thing you’re asking people to do is annoying or burdensome or confusing, maybe take a line or two to say that. “I know we don’t love using the teacher eval system, so let’s get this task off our lists by the end of the week and get back to the enduring work.”
- Cultivate a love for people. At the end of the day, good, kind emails tend to come from good, kind people. Take a permanent diet from complaining about people, as complaining drains the soul of hope and love. Flee from these kinds of activities, and pursue instead simple disciplines like thinking on what you like about the people you work with, and seeking moments of genuine connection with your colleagues. (Remember, encouragement is always an option.)
I hope this list helps. 🙂