In a recent interview with CNBC's Adam Bryant, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner shared his thoughts on a variety of business topics, including what he's learned about email over the years.

In doing so, he called out the practice that stands out as the single biggest mistake people make in email:

Writing too much.

"It's easy to overlook the importance of clarity and brevity in emails," Weiner explains. "The longer and more complex an email, the more questions get raised and people are looking for follow-up answers and you have to send more emails, and then more responses come back, and so forth and so on."

Weiner also alluded to the "angry email." We've all been there; either we receive an email in which we feel attacked, and are moved to immediately write an emotional response, vehemently defending ourselves. Or we unwittingly attack someone else, completely unaware of the way our email will be received.

What's the solution?

Pick up the phone, says Weiner.

"Oftentimes, particularly in a volatile situation, people will send email--they're not always becoming a spectator to their own thoughts when they're authoring the email and they'll send something out that may trigger someone on the receiving end. And you get a lot of vitriol going back and forth and sometimes it's best to just say, 'let's take this offline.' Get together and be able to provide additional context as to why people are upset or why there's friction--and you can resolve things much faster that way."

Weiner's advice is not only smart, it's emotionally intelligent.

Most likely you see this mistake on a daily basis: emails intended to simplify but end up overcomplicating matters, emails that become accusatory in nature, emails that take jabs at the recipient or others. 

The thing is, as the world becomes increasingly smaller (and more and more teams work remotely), email and messaging apps will continue to be the communication tool of choice for many. The fact is these tools can save time and give you more control--when used effectively.

But when you make the mistakes outlined above, things can get out of control very quickly--requiring much more time spent on damage control.

So, when should you use email, and when should you call or meet in person?

If you're finding that question difficult to answer, follow these three steps:

1. Write your email and save it as a draft.

Even if you don't end up sending it, putting your thoughts in writing will help you articulate them clearly.

2. Revisit the draft later.

If the email is urgent, as little as five minutes (or another cup of coffee) can make a huge difference. Otherwise, give it a few hours--or even a day.

3. Re-read the email, keeping your audience in mind.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I writing too much? 
  • Is the email confusing?
  • Will it raise more questions than it will answer?
  • Is there anything that could be misinterpreted, or that sounds angry, emotional, or flippant?
  • Is there anything unnecessary I can remove from this email?
  • Would it be better to communicate this by phone (or in person)?

After following this three-step process, you might decide that email is still the way to go. If so, try to keep things as brief yet clear as possible.

In fact, you may just be inspired to send the briefest email of all:

Hey, we need to talk about [subject]. Can I give you a call?

Love it or hate it, email and messaging are necessary forms of communication. Learn how to use them right, and you'll save yourself lots of time--and grief--in the long run.

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Published on: Sep 20, 2018