Andy: This week, I’ve had to email a lot of strangers to introduce myself and schedule times for “a call.” Boy, I’d forgotten how much I hated it.
Emma: Oh, totally. It’s the innocuous stuff that gets me in my head the most.
Andy: I feel like I have to show these strangers so many things about me all at once: I’m competent! I’m available! I’m friendly! I’m interested! I’m free at these times, but not at these other times — my schedule is complex, but I’m a master communicator so I’ve explained it all effortlessly! I’m serious, but casual! And well dressed! Respect me!
When I try to fit it all in, I’m none of those things.
Emma: It’s too much! We’ve said before that emails are best when they are short and tonally neutral. That’s especially important if you’re emailing when you’re angry, but it applies when you’re feeling chipper and want to make a good impression, too.
Andy: Turns out, it’s pretty easy for a chipper email to come across as medically induced.
When it comes to scheduling a first meeting, I’ve learned my one goal is to get a time on the books in as few emails as possible. Back and forth this early in any relationship is ripe for disaster. We don’t know each other yet, so we’re less likely to be forgiving of faults or hiccups.
Emma: It’s like when a waiter brings you the wrong drinks, and then they come back to say they’re out of soup, and then they stop by to ask how you wanted your steak cooked. The more interactions you have in this zone, the more wary you are about what’s going to happen when the food finally comes.
How to Schedule Something Over Email
When you’re trying to get someone on the phone — or in a meeting room or at a coffee shop — it’s on you to be direct and informative. Assume nothing, and be very literal.
Make sure you include:
What information you want to cover, even if it seems obvious.
Suggested time, including time zone if applicable. Always propose a time, even if your schedule is wide open.
Alternate times. This is where apps like Calendly can be helpful, especially if your free times are scattered and hard to summarize.
End time or length of meeting.
Mode of communication, and who’s getting in touch with whom. Steer clear of the vague word “chat” — is that a phone call chat? Video? Am I going to be scrambling to download Zoom or Uberconference? Am I calling you, or are you calling me?
Optional: One line to set the tone. Often the opening or closing line.
Here are a few examples that do a good job:
The quarterly report is in and we’re seeing early signs of growth! I can walk you through it on Thursday at 10–10:45a PT, or Friday at 2–2:45p.
Let me know which time you prefer and I’ll send you an invite with a link to the Google hangout.
Katie! Hope all is well. I started a new gig and I’d love to tell you about it. Maybe you’d be open to helping us out with some consulting? Here’s a link to my Calendly — grab an hour that’s good and I’ll call your cell then.
Thank you for sending in your application for the graduate-student internship. Your experience at the University of Washington sounds a lot like our day-to-day. I’d love to move forward with a 30-minute phone call so I can learn more about your background with adult language learners.
How’s Tuesday afternoon at 1p? I’m also available Wednesday after 11a or Thursday between 9a–11a.
Looking forward to it,
Responding to an Incomplete Scheduling Email
When only some of the key points are covered, back and forths start piling up. Take on the work of filling in the blanks.
Keep questions limited or else this is what you get:
Yes, I’d love to talk more! What time works for you? Do you prefer phone or video? Should I plan on more than one hour? (If yes, I’ll need to make arrangements with my work.) Is there anything I can prepare?
You probably wish we never met!
Instead, make the email chain concrete. If it doesn’t work for them, they’ll say so.
Yes, I’d love to talk. How’s 1–1:30pm PT Monday for a phone call? I’m also free before 11am on Tuesday, or anytime Wednesday. You can reach me at 555-131-8080.
Looking forward to your call,
A quick note on power: Most email exchanges are not between two people with equal power. If you hold the power, make it easier for everyone by including all five key points from above.
If you’re not the one holding the power — say, you’re applying for a job — do your best, but know you may not be able to lock down all the information you’d like in one email without sounding controlling and a little unhinged. Our advice: Ask what you can and do your best flying a little blind.
Emma: The other innocuous part of an email that can stump me is the sign off. It makes me feel crazy obsessing about, what… three words, max? We have better things to do with our brains. But I’ve always been quick to second guess what someone is going to read into it, if it’s doing me justice, if it conveys what I want it to convey.
Andy: You are not alone. We got an email asking about this very thing:
I’d love ideas for creative send offs for emails! I’m so over the use of Best and have started using As ever, but that feels better for closer correspondence as opposed to general queries.
I think I care about sign offs more than most people. I hate pretty much all of them. Take care — did you mean, “Screw you”? Thanks in advance — did you mean, “Bow to me”?
Emma: It’s email recipients like you that keep me up at night.
Andy: I know I sound irrational, but that last bit of the email is a condenser funnel. Whatever’s going on up top is amplified. It’s why sign offs are so high stakes.
Emma: The good news is if you nail being clear and informative in the rest of your email, the sign off acts more like punctuation, insomuch as you only notice it when it’s something truly wacky. And I agree with our question writer’s impulse: As ever is wacky. Stick with boring old Best.
Andy: Yes! Let there be no flair to distract me from your email’s content. May your sign offs be forever unnoticed.
Sign offs, or complimentary closes, have gotten shorter and simpler over the years. The best float past the reader without ever grazing their brain. The worst, well, you’ll recognize the feeling.
Looking forward to it,
Your first name (nothing else)
Emma: My current sign-off strategy is to just repeat whatever the next step is — Talk to you Monday! or Looking forward to reading your draft, — and follow it with my first name.
Andy: Simple! Effortless!
Emma: And when in doubt, I pull an Andy and skip the sign off altogether.
Andy: You can’t read into something that isn’t there.
Good Boss Achievement Stickers: Innocuous Emails Edition
Endless, unwavering devotion from the very bottom of both our hearts,
*~* Andy & Emma *~*
•͡˘㇁•͡˘ + •͡˘㇁•͡˘