Email opportunities and challenges

            Every interaction with others in your organization is an opportunity to increase or decrease support for your work and intended outcomes. If you’re like most people, email is one of the primary ways – if not the primary way – you interact with those whose support you need. You’ll want to be sure that you understand how your emails are perceived and that they do not inadvertently create resistance instead of support.

What to do:

Use the checklist tool below to help you avoid the common email challenges. While it may seem cumbersome to run through this checklist for every email, the goal is to make this way of thinking automatic. Try it a few times, and soon you won’t even have to look at the list, and you’ll increase the level of support and cooperation from those you message.

Email challenges and avoiding them
ChallengeHow to avoid the challenge
Not knowing when to use or not use email– Consider alternative ways of responding, and be sure that email is appropriate.
– Don’t email to avoid the recipient or their reaction to your message.
– Follow the other person’s lead: if they usually call or are expecting a call, don’t use email
– Don’t CC people (such as someone’s boss) to punish the recipient
– Don’t introduce an idea that might cause the recipient to resist (such as requesting resources that you know the recipient will find disturbing)
-Don’t escalate an ongoing email war. If something has upset you, take time to calm down and, if appropriate, request clarification rather than assuming the offense was intentional; refrain from firing off an email in anger
– If in doubt about the appropriateness of what you’re sending, ask a colleague for their opinion on how the recipient might interpret your message
ChallengeHow to avoid the challenge
Not taking time to establish a relationship or human touch.– Do what you can to establish a relationship with this person first, so your email interactions go more smoothly
– Try to meet the recipient in person or by phone if possible
– Recognize that because email lacks nonverbal cues, it’s easy for people to misunderstand or take offense at messages. Try to reduce this possibility by ensuring that your tone is warm or at least neutral
– Use “please” and “thank you” As appropriate, include positive comments on the working relationship you have with the recipient, refer to shared work experiences, exchange some personal information
– Include a greeting and a signature, especially when interacting with colleagues in non-USA countries, where there is often a higher level of formality
Email Reality Check

            Here’s an example of an email that is not effective:

I’m still waiting for your month-end report. My deadline is Friday.

            Jim, the recipient of this email, did not report to Beth, the sender, nor did he know her well. He certainly wasn’t expecting to get what appeared to be a command from her. And didn’t she recognize that he had his work to do and his deadlines? Jim did not immediately leap into action upon receipt of this message. Nor was his impression of Beth enhanced.

            Beth, meanwhile, couldn’t figure out why she didn’t get a quick response from Jim. She knew he got her email since she’d gotten a read receipt. It struck her that perhaps Jim just wasn’t a team player. It never occurred to Beth that maybe her curt and seemingly demanding email might have played a part in Jim’s response, which is no response.

            Most people think they get too much email, and some argue that readers appreciate concise emails. That may be true, and we still believe the following would have been more likely to get results for Beth:

            Hi Jim,

Thanks for getting back to me so quickly with the numbers for last quarter. I’d like to include the previous month’s figures when I give my report this Friday. Could you possibly send me a copy of your month-end report by Thursday? I know you’re probably in the middle of many other things, so please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you with this.



            Beth might have stopped by Jim’s office and asked for a copy. Had Beth considered the Checklist email challenges and avoiding them before sending her message, she likely could have gotten what she needed when she needed it.  


Federico, M., & Beaty, R. (2003). Rath & Strong’s six sigma team pocket guide. McGraw-Hill.