Those of us that spend a lot of time in email have developed a lot of habits that make us more efficient. They work really well when the people we are working with also do them. But lately I’ve been encountering situations where they misfire. For example:
Good habit: Replying in the message.
When replying to an email, we tend to leave most of the conversation intact and we insert our comments where appropriate. That way you keep the context. If you have a lot of emails conversations you are following, or if new people join the conversation, that is essential. Otherwise you have to go back and read all the old mail, remember the conversation and piece it together. It would take me forever to read mail that way.
Problem: I recently had a case where someone was asking for help. When another person wrote back some nice ideas and thoughts, the person asking for help never responded. When I asked him why not, he told me he hadn’t seen any ideas. He opened the mail, but since there was nothing at the top and it looked like just his original mail was in there, he assumed there was no response. He didn’t scroll and look for the answers.
Solution: Always start a new thread with a greeting or header and be sure to say something like “My comments are embedded below.”
Good Habit: CC’ing someone who needs help.
When forwarding someone’s question to the mailing list or to another person, we cc them so that they can see all the responses and ask follow up questions. (Otherwise we’d have to watch the responses and forward them or summarize and forward back to the original person.)
Problem: People reply back to the mailing list or to you without cc’ing the person. Sometimes this happens because they don’t notice that someone is cc’ed. Sometimes it happens because they are “shy” and want to make sure their answer is something you are looking for. Sometimes it happens because they see you as the authority figure to report to.
Solution: Explicitly ask people to reply to all or “reply to Bob” with ideas. (And I realize that all my solutions require more typing and more work. If you’ve got better ones, please let me know!)
Good Habit: Putting information in wikis (and expecting others to update it)
Solution: Write back and say, that’s great, can you add it to the wiki please? (Note that this only seems to work 30% of the time, so I’m open to better suggestions. I think the main problem is they already answered your question so now there’s one more step they need to do.) Maybe a better solution would be to say in your original mail, “Please update the wiki directly – don’t email me updates” but then you might shut off discussion. Sometimes people email you the updates so that the group can discuss them.
What other good habits don’t work well when the other person isn’t aware of them? What other solutions do you have for making good habits work with those that aren’t aware of them. (Without trying to change the other person’s habits.)