Category: Success

5 tips for responding to emails that will save your professional life

Emails are one of the most dynamic and unwittingly dangerous communication tools that exist. And they are here to stay.

As we jet through facebook, tweeter and google+ on to the emerging applications of the future, the email will take the ride buckled into the seat right beside ours, sipping a cocktail, sure of its destiny.

The use of this powerful tool calls for no license, training or mentorship. It is a technology open for all to use — freely and innocently. The email is seen as an efficient, flowing and communication-fomenting vehicle.

Until your first crash.

It is then that you realize the amount of damage this tool can cause in the blink of a human eye. And you also realize, much to your horror, that emails are less biodegradable than steel. They are permanent.

Once you push the send button, they cannot be taken back or amended. Ever. Just that simple thought makes me shudder.

As a content and communication strategist, I believe we all need a little guidance to avoid disasters — a few handy tips or rules that will help to keep our professional relationships healthy and robust.

Before I go on to the 5 tips, however, I first need to make a confession.

A few days ago, I broke my own key rules on responding to professional emails. I also broke the back-up rule that I had set up in case I wanted to break a key rule.

Of course, a small crash ensued.

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The three strategies of the classic world

After many journeys to distant lands as a kind of modern day Ulysses, after wandering far and wide, back and forth over the seas, I finally arrived safely to the mythical port of Ithaca—Barcino, in my story.

In my voyages over the years I have come to know scores of projects and their strategies from many different lands. I have loved them, nourished them, warred with them, and even left many of them to travel their own journeys with new maps and cunning.

As I reflect back on the types of strategies I have seen used throughout the world by entrepreneurs, organizations, and businesses, I see clearly that they can be categorized into three classic groups that I will briefly describe below.

In honor of my own journey’s end at the ancient Roman port, today known as Barcelona, I thought it appropriate to coin names for these strategies that still thrive with good health in our modern times. Thus was born: strategius spiritum, strategius erraticum and strategius precisum. 

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The shimmer and shine of failures

Failures. We don’t talk about them much. We don’t put them on our CVs, and we don’t open our cover letter, job interview or project pitch referencing them.

But maybe we should.

Risky? Perhaps.

Sassy? Yes.

Illustrative of our capacity to pay attention, learn and evolve by looking at situations squarely in the eye and having the courage to keep going, this time with more understanding and skill? Definitely.

And the project scouts, headhunters, team builders, above average bosses and great human relations professionals know how very important it is. As a matter of fact, fearless learning from failures could be the most important ability you have.

It goes something like this: if you have any real experience in the work world then you have surely been part of a project that has failed (meaning it didn’t meet objectives, either those formally stated or personally desired). And you know what? That’s great. That’s absolutely perfect. There is no better opportunity to learn—no better opportunity to put your analytical, critical and creative thinking skills to use than to take a failed project apart.

Maybe this is not initially easy for you, and that’s understandable. Here’s what you can do right now. Sit back, push your chair away from your computer a bit or set down whatever screen you have in your hands, raise your eyes upward toward your brows and think: what was the last or the biggest project failure of mine? Not a mistake, not a misstep, not a bad decision, but a true failure. Meaning, you did not do what you set out to do—either with your own money and resources or those of others, it doesn’t matter for this exercise. The only criterion is that the project did not work. Period.

Now that you have that in mind, let any surge of emotion that comes up pass through you like the wind that passes through the leaves of a tree, to then become still and calm again. Spend a few minutes thinking about what went wrong, strategically speaking. No blaming other people. Think objectively and be cool about it. Deconstruct the whole project if necessary; find the parts that were weak, the blind spots, see what was missing or overly abundant. Name it all, honestly. Free of guilt and resentment. Examine it, cut and polish it like a diamond in the rough. Discover its size, dimension, shape and contours and let the opportunity shine so brightly that you become mesmerized by its reflective brilliance. You, my friend, have discovered a treasure.

Why can we learn even more from a failed project than a successful one? Because there is precise and detailed information about the exact type of action, absence, oversight, thinking or strategic misstep that lead a project down the wrong road or a road to nowhere. This information is your treasure. It will turn your strategic toolbox into a treasure chest, and if you do this exercise honestly and with genuine curiosity, you will never ever make those same mistakes again. Your next projects will be strategically clearer and have a greater chance of meeting goals and of being successful.

Still finding this unpleasant? Would you like an example from my bag of experiences? OK, here goes.

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The trumpet player and the president

A brief tale about focus groups.

There were once two men with talent; one was a gifted musician and the other an elected president of a beautiful country. The musician played his trumpet every evening for change from passersby in a long underground passageway that connected two lines of the city’s metro. The other delivered very important speeches that sought to explain the country’s difficult economic situation to his constituents. The musician played his music quite well, but he played his instrument so loud that people hurried past, and some even slightly turned away, shielding themselves from the blare of the trumpet which produced a painful sensation as they neared. Not far away from there, the president, who was an intelligent man and competent orator, looked squarely into the television camera and endlessly put forth complex data and technical vocabulary while the citizens listened in their homes with confusion and impatience.

Neither of these talented men was engaging their public. Both had missed their mark. They desperately needed feedback from their targeted listeners. A small focus group would have easily told the trumpet player that he was playing too loud and the president that his discourse did not help them to understand their country’s very real problems.

For the musician, this meant that no people stopped to put money in his hat. For the president it meant that thousands of people grew frustrated and distrustful.

Think for a moment about your talent and your project. Do you know how your public engages, how they feel, and if your art is making the impact you desire? If not, find out. Run a focus group.

It could mean the difference between your success and going home with an empty hat.

A strategic mantra

If you had to choose one strategic mantra for your business, project or initiative, the chanting of “clarity, clarity, clarity” might be your best choice. It is surprising, however, how often this very simple idea is never chanted, or even considered, as we busily go about our daily routine with our team, our project development, our production and our communication.

Clarity begins with the core vision of our project, a vision that everyone involved needs to understand and share in order to fully participate and use their skills to their maximum potential. Clarity is also key for the smooth choreography of a team of people working together. People must understand their role, what is expected of them, timelines, goals, as well as the roles of the other members of the team.

This is one of the most common oversights experienced in countless projects in all parts of the world. Why? Because achieving clarity is a highly refined skill and is not always easy. As a matter of fact, it can take quite a bit of effort – beginning with the conscious desire of the project’s leader. However, when the hard work is done, and the difficult moments have passed, the strongest and most effective enterprises are created; attitudes change, output improves and people reach commonly shared goals together. It works. And things get easier from there.

The artist Gary Larson gets it. So pick up a metaphorical paintbrush and start clarifying.