How to write Proactive, Considerate Emails – please!

I consider myself a big fan of email communications, and in the about-me selfishness of my own productivity I will choose email over voicemail hands down. Generally I find that people are not as verbose and long-winded in email, and I like being able to preview email.

Quite honestly, I can find listening to voicemail pretty laborious; “listening patience” is not one of my virtues. A highly visual person by nature, I have always dealt with the written word much more efficiently. I love receiving notes and letters from people, and that includes their emails.

However that being said, like nearly every other emailer on the planet, I also have my days where I look at my email inbox and begin to groan because it’s overwhelming. This tends to happen to me primarily when I’m traveling because I have this gadget aversion and only read email on my laptop (still a dinosaur which is not wireless compatible). I keep up with email pretty well at other times.

Then there are those days I’m in the office and email becomes annoying for two other reasons. One is that I’m on a roll with a project or some other endeavor, and hence my momentum has the same effect that my traveling does: Email builds up in my inbox because I’m not checking it and answering them as often as I usually do.

The second reason is the one I want to talk about today: People need to learn the art and generosity of writing proactive, considerate emails.

What are considerate emails? They are aloha-filled emails, and these are some of their characteristics:

  • Considerate emails are the ones in which the sender practices empathy: They make it easy on the receiver. They serve more than they say “you help me.” Quick, carelessly written, incomplete emails where the sender has the tag, you’re it or ball’s in your court attitude are NOT considerate emails.
  • What does “they serve” mean? The sender does as much of the heavy-lifting and burden-carrying as possible: They take primary responsibility for the communication which must occur, so that it is very easy —or unnecessary—for the receiver to answer them.
  • Considerate emails are generous in nature, but they are also proactive, in that they cover all the points you can anticipate may be questioned: They provide answers seemingly before you have finished thinking of the question. Back and forth email strings are considered the nuisance they are, and are proactively avoided.
  • Proactive emails anticipate every possible need for information, however they are considerate because they are short. The goal is also to write them as succinctly and concisely as possible. (I admit I personally must work much harder at this one: brevity is not my strong suit.) Also on this one, I am NOT talking about the emailed version of letters and personal correspondence — I love getting those from you, keep them coming!
  • I’ve learned this trick very recently: Considerate emailers use the Read Receipt feature in a wonderful way. This is the first sentence you see in your preview pane: This message is an FYI or String-Ender you need not answer. Just hit yes on the Read Receipt so I know you got it.

What have I forgotten? Do you have any other tips to share in my campaign for the dominance of the Considerate and Proactive Email?



  1. says

    Rosa, one tip I picked up from a business writing class was to consider the project, the communication in writing as a conversation. Email tends to fail when it is one sided. Where conversations in person and over the phone are generally successful because they are two sided, give and take. Approach the email as if you were having a phone conversation on the topic with yourself.
    Make your initial point.
    Consider how you would reply and answer that.
    Consider how you would reply and answer that.
    It works pretty well if you fold a piece of paper in half the long way so you end up with two columns.
    One side of the conversation on the left, the other side on the right.
    Clearly, this is not very practical to do everytime but if you do it a couple of times to get the hang of it, then you can run through the approach using just the grey matter between the ears and type it out as you go.
    Seems to work for me when I take time to do this. I am curious to see if anyone else has done this and what they thought of it.

  2. says

    Thank you for the coaching Steve; it’s a simple but exceptionally logical thought – take responsibility for both sides of the conversation as much as it is possible for doing so.