How can I build a strong relationship with someone I’ve never met?
How can I save time?
How can my emails serve the other person so that we’ll both get the best outcome?
Over time, I embraced and developed a number of practices that produced fantastic results. I’m breaking the essentials into a 3-part series – starting with time management. If you don’t communicate internationally, no problem. I've found that the best practices from international communication also apply to domestic emails, so these tips will be helpful whether you work in one time zone or ten.
Respond to emails within 24 hours.
I used to manage a US-based team that was the communication hub for a network of offices around the world. (We were the corporate office, but we didn’t like to refer to ourselves that way. It sounded too…corporate. Maybe there’s another lesson.) I’ll never forget when the manager of our Hong Kong office told me that we were the best “home office” she had ever worked with. She was only a few months into the job, but she was already paying us this high compliment. The main reason? We were responsive to emails. When she – or anyone else – reached out to us, we had a response to her inbox by the time she came into work the next day.
The 24-hour responsiveness guideline is a great way to quickly build credibility – and start relationships on the right foot. You may not have the answer yet, but at least acknowledge the email and buy yourself some time. No one wants to feel like their message went into a black hole, and this feeling is only exacerbated with large time zone differences. Being responsive lets people know there is a thoughtful human being behind the computer.
Preemptively answer questions.
With a little extra thought on the front end, you can often save a whole extra day of back-and-forth. Think about the questions your readers might have as a result of your email – and go ahead and answer them. Put yourself in their shoes. What might they be wondering? Did you explain why you needed X? Did you give enough information for them to do Y? Are there next steps you can communicate as a result of them doing A or B? Obviously you don’t want to turn your email into a 10-page manual, but preemptively answering basic questions will save time for both of you.
Respond to the real need or question – not just the one that appears at first glance.
Sometimes people have a hard time expressing what they need, and if you read their email too quickly, you’re going to miss the true request. Especially if they are writing in a non-native language, some deciphering may be involved. (Before you get judgmental, try writing an email in their native language.) Other times, they will ask for one thing, but if you take the time to truly understand the email, it’s apparent that they are getting at a separate issue. It’s time well spent. You’ll save at least another day of additional back and forth, as well as earn a reputation for being helpful and smart.
Stay tuned for Part 2 - Clarity!