Emma: There’s a moment in season five of Top Chef when guest judge Jacques Pépin said he could “die happy” after eating contestant Carla Hall’s green peas. It was a side dish, prepared simply, that outshone her four other courses. I’ve remembered that moment (and virtually nothing else from Top Chef) for nine years.

Emails are a lot like those peas. An email should never be the main course — inboxes are rarely the best forum if there’s a lot to digest. A bad email puts a bad taste in your reader’s mouth, a bland email will likely be ignored and forgotten. A great email stands out. We receive a great email and we can all die happy.

Andy: And writing emails can so often feel like cooking peas. There’s that moment of, like, “Does anyone even like peas?” But a good email is so good. It’s a glowing column of light from heaven.

Emma: For a long time, my main focus when writing an email was on me. How was I coming across? What will the recipient think of me? My emails tended to be wordy, I hedged a lot, I used lots of emojis.

Andy: All my emails were bulky and ignored. I hated sending them.

Everything flipped when I became a new manager and I was on the receiving end of the type of bad emails I’d been sending. I remember opening one with loads of information: How things were going, where the project was at, how late different parts were. It was written by a smart, competent, funny person — one of the best on my team. And it ended with, “Thoughts?”

Emma: Oof.

Andy: Right? I have a thousand thoughts in my head, way too many for me to type out. Which of them do you want and what will you do with them?

So, I closed the email. I became the manager I didn’t want to be: “Too busy” to respond. But there really is no time to answer an email like that.

Emma: I’ve trained myself to focus on the recipient. Do they know what to do next, and can they do it? Is it as short as possible? Would any of this be better as a bulleted list?

Andy: Exactly. That email I got should still have all that great information at the top, but instead of ending with “Thoughts?” end with, “I think we should do XYZ. If you agree, I’ll go ahead and take these specific steps.”

So I, the recipient, can write back: “Yes, great! Go for it.” Or, “Let’s tweak this together. Throw 30 mins on my calendar on Wednesday.”

Emma: Well-crafted emails cultivate trust and authority. They make you appear confident, cool-headed, and in control. And, they make things happen.

It’s worth teaching your team to write great emails. You know that cringy feeling you get when one of your reports cc’s you on a trainwreck email to someone important? Don’t turn away from that cringy feeling. In your next 1-on-1, tell that report, “This is not a great email. Let’s figure out how to make it great, and make great ones in the future.”

How to Write an Email Asking For Approval

Here’s an example from a real-life email Emma sent to her former CEO. She needed sign-off to move forward with formal interview training for the company’s hiring managers.

Step 1: Answer these four questions

1. What do you hope to hear?
Approved!

2. Who do you need to hear it from?
Head of company

3. What do they need to know to give you that answer?
Cost, timeline, why I picked this consultant, what we’ll get out of it (use bullets!), full proposal (attach it!)

4. What will you do with that answer?
Book the training

Step 2: Turn those answers into your email

Hi Andy,

I’ve been doing research to bring interview training to the hiring managers on our team. I think we should hire Monica Green of North Consulting. She was recommended by a former colleague who hired her to give this same session to his team at Google.

Price: $2,500 for three-hour, on-site training for 7-12 people

  • Includes 60-minute strategy lecture, breakout practice sessions, and feedback
  • Also includes facilitator slides and take-home resource cards

When: Wednesday, September 12 from 9am–12pm

  • She’s also available throughout October if that date doesn’t work

More info: Her full proposal is attached for your reference.

If this sounds good to you, I’ll book the September session for the team.

Thanks,
EmmaPale pink divider

How to Write an Email Saying You’re Sick

An email everyone has to write, and one that is way harder to do well than you think it should be. Resist the urge to overexplain.

Step 1: Answer these four questions

1. Who do you need to tell?
My manager and any teammates affected by my absence

2. What are they going to be afraid of?
Late projects and dependencies, if I’m going to be sick forever, if they need to do anything

3. How can you assuage those fears?
Explain who’s covering what, confirm they’re ready to rock, give status of all other work, include when people can expect to hear from me again

4.What can you keep to yourself?
What I think might be wrong with me, anything about bodily fluids

Step 2: Turn those answers into your email

Hi Emma,

I’m feeling sick and won’t be in today.

I’ve asked Esteban to fill in at today’s design meeting — he’s been briefed and is ready to go. No other projects are at risk!

I expect to feel better tomorrow, but I’ll email you in the morning if I’m not.

Andy

 

 

There are so many emails we all need to write! How do you deliver bad news? How do you respond to it? How do you schedule a dang meeting?

Tell us the types of emails you struggle with — better yet, send us one of your bad emails and we’ll re-work it, give feedback, and, if you let us, feature an anonymized version of it in an upcoming post.

Good Boss Achievement Stickers: Delete These From Your Emails Edition

The Bent Good Boss Achievement Stickers Better Emails Edition

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