How do I get my boss to respond to my e-mails? Guide to communicating with executives.

by Apr 7, 2009Lessons Learned

One of the most common complaints I hear from people is that their leaders do not respond quickly enough to their emails, which then blocks their work progress. While it does take two to tango, it is on the one communicating to make sure the medium, the content, and the timing are most effective. Great leaders will often give you the playbook for how to communicate with them most efficiently. Unfortunately, that isn’t so common. Our ability to unblock ourselves is dependent on us shaping our message, so the receiving party has an easy way to “digest” it and react. The busier the receiver, the more “pre-digestion” we need to do. Emails, texts, DMs, etc., seem simple enough yet must be approached with care. I had developed several techniques that, when I shared them with colleagues, resulted in better communications:

  1. Ease of consumption. In this age of ubiquitous technology, our smartphones are always with us. If the receiver is continuously on one of these devices, make sure only to send messages that show up well within the screen without scrolling, AND your ask requires only a sentence or two to answer. Email on a desktop is no different since the preview screen has limits.
  2. Length. Seek permission before writing a “novel.” Most of the time, “Cliff Notes” will get a better result. Practice writing short 3-4 sentence/bullet point messages. You will be surprised how fast the answers come back.
  3. Subject line. We often miss the opportunity to directly get to the point in the subject line, yet it is so effective. You must figure out how to encapsulate your message and call to action in one sentence. If you spend the time to write a good subject line, your message will get through. If you can figure out how to communicate everything (message and call to action) in one sentence, your messages will get attention.
  4. Action or FYI. Either ask for action or deliver information that causes action. Condition your recipients always to expect calls to action or actionable information.
  5. Information overload. Lastly, have your details documented and ready in case the recipient requests them. But until you are asked for them, provide conclusions, options, and KEY facts.

Here is an example of a message I would send to the CFO:

Subject line:  Approval needed: replacement backup system – $YYYY initial cost, $YYYY additional monthly costs.

Ms. CFO,

After the last failure that almost caused us to lose vital customer data, we have researched available options for vendors to provide an improved solution to our expensive systems backup issues.

Option A: Total 3-year $XXXXX, initial investment $XXX, ongoing new costs $XXX per month over current spend.

Option B: Total 3-year $YYYYY, initial investment $YYY, ongoing new costs $YYY per month over current spend.

Our team considers option B to be a better choice (though more expensive) due to the track record of that vendor. Either option will fit within the approved annual budget. We seek allocation of funds to remedy our backup issues.


Image credit: Kevin Doncaster

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