5 E-mails Successful People Don’t Send

There are a lot of e-mails you should never send. You might feel productive firing them off, but don't be fooled.
Co-Founder, Brazen Careerist
March 07, 2012

There are certain types of e-mails you should never send. You might feel good firing them off, but sending them undermines your effectiveness.

One kind of e-mail that you should consider not sending is the one asking permission. The world opens up if you stop asking for permission. Most decisions about whether to send an e-mail asking permission fall between mission-critical and unnecessary.

To decide if you have to ask for permission, weigh the costs and the benefits of sending that e-mail. If you might lose your company by striking out on your own, that’s a high cost. If you are enabling yourself to do more of what you want to do, that’s a huge benefit.

This MP in the photo likely did not ask permission to bring her child to work. She works for her constituents, which means that on a day-to-day basis, she makes her own decisions. If she had asked someone for permission to bring her daughter to Parliament, she would probably have been told no.

Whatever you decide about whether some workplace communications are necessary, don't ever send the ones that follow.

1. Screw-up e-mails

The "you’re a screw-up" e-mail is almost always a mistake. You think it makes you seem powerful, but bitching to someone in e-mail reflects lousy social skills. And people with lousy social skills make lousy leaders.

If you need to tell someone they did a bad job, do it in person so you can gauge their reaction. If they are crushed by the first words, there’s no need to keep going, as you would in an e-mail.

Another reason not to reprimand by e-mail is that people leave such e-mails in their inbox for weeks and reread it every time they want to resurrect their hate for you. Talking in person helps everyone move past the conflict without residue.

2. Sick-day e-mails

A good rule of thumb is to never send an automated e-mail response to say you are gone for one or two days. It’s annoying to people. They don’t care that you are out of the office for one day. Just send the e-mail when you get back.

The number of emergency e-mails you receive in a day is probably one or two. Those people call you if they don’t hear from you in 15 minutes. So you don’t need to put everyone else though the annoyance of hearing that you are out of the office for the day.

3. Cold-call e-mails

I was surprised to receive an e-mail from a top venture capitalist asking me for an introduction to a 25-year-old designer. The designer was a heavy user of my company’s career-management platform, BrazenCareerist.com and the VC had noticed. He wanted to connect the designer to a startup he had just invested in, and he did not want to send a cold-call e-mail.

I was initially surprised, but then I realized that the designer probably would not know that the VC is huge. But if I send an introduction, letting the designer know the VC is important, the designer will respond quickly. It’s the VC’s way of making sure e-mails get quick answers.

Then I realized that if such a heavy-hitter as this VC is not sending cold-call e-mails, no one should. After that, whenever I want a favor from someone who doesn’t know me, I ask someone else for an introduction, or I don’t ask.

The fastest way to get favors is to have a strong network and ask for something the network can help with. Cold-call e-mails take so long to come to fruition that they are mostly not worth the time.

4. Lunch e-mails

Most people who have a lot to give (advice, money, connections, support) do not have a lot of time to give it. You have a better chance of getting what you need if you ask for the exact right amount of time to get it. Lunch takes a long time compared to an e-mail response.

So, for example, if you need a name of a salesperson who has experience in semi-conductors, don’t ask the person who has a list of names to have lunch. Send an e-mail requesting the information. If you make an offer to the salesperson and they are not sure if they want the job, then ask the salesperson to lunch.

The rules for how much time you can ask of someone seem complicated. But the bottom line is, don’t invite someone to lunch unless you plan to give them money. There are exceptions, but those exceptions are few, and they are described with great detail by VC Mark Suster (who hates getting lunch invitations).

5. Photo e-mails

If your photo shows up with your e-mail, attach one that will do no harm. Do not put a significant other in your photo. A spouse implies you are announcing you don’t have an independent identity. A kid implies you are not working long enough hours.

Don’t tell me you include someone in your photo because they are important to you. The person sending and receiving e-mails only cares that he or she is important to you. Your life story does not need to be included in the e-mail.

Also, make yourself look young and fun because the startup world prefers young people. You might not look young and fun in person, but first impressions go a long way.

Photo credit: PenelopeTrunk.com