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My 5 year rule for sustainable relationships

If you won’t be in my life 5 years from now, you won’t be in my life now.

I may engage in transactional relationships, of course, but I don’t invest in them. I invest only in sustainable relationships and I would encourage you to as well.

I look at all relationships in my life through the lens of sustainability with the goal of investing the precioius amount of my time into only relationships that are healthy, beneficial and constructive. Anything else, I cancel

Sustainable

These are relationships that are viable, healthy, growing and will improve you just by being in them

  • Co-workers, team members, professionals in your network who are a positive influence, growing and improving. They will inspire you in your journey
  • Mentors who can help you. If you are lucky to have one, hold onto them
  • Family (in most cases). Nobody loves you like family. When you are down and many who you thought were your friends disappear, family will still be there. But sometimes no one can hurt you like family as well
  • New people I meet who demonstrate positive energy, good attitudes and other admirable traits. I always think the next person I meet will be the coolest person I’ve ever met in my life. With remarkable frequency, people don’t disappoint. Sometimes all you have to do is take your ear buds out and introduce yourself
  • Yourself. You must invest in yourself, so you can be there for your other sustainable relationships

Not sustainable

These are destructive relationships, that in the long run will waste your time, make you unhappy and prevent you from growing as a person.

  • Relationships that previously ended in failure whether professional or personal. I’m a big believer in that if a tree falls over, you will never get it to successfully grow again
  • Toxic relationships, of any sort, that negatively affect you. Work on investing in yourself, and you will be more willing and able to cast off these negative relationships in your life
  • People who aren’t willing to grow, learn or improve. These people will actively sabotage your attempts to improve
  • People who will take from you, whether it is your money, enthusiasm, optimization or faith in your fellow (wo)man. No matter how successful you are, if you have these people in your life, like parasites, they will rob you of the fruits of your success
  • People who have demonstrated the propensity to lie, steal, hate and perhaps a few others. Be fortunate that you recognized these traits, as often they are well hidden, but be decisive in how you respond
  • Broken people who can’t listen, learn or benefit from help. Until they can change, they can’t be helped and in trying to help them, you will be dragged down too

Some unsustainable relationships I cancelled

  • I had a great attorney who was also really kind of a friend. He moved to a new firm and immediately overbilled me. He became an ex-attorney
  • A friend who wouldn’t invest in his career and was just flatlining
  • A team member, and friend, who could not manage his personal demons related to anger and hate
  • A sales manager in my company who refused to commit to our business model and was actively undermining it
  • A principal in our company who wouldn’t adopt our values
  • A team member who disparaged my company
  • Various people who have lied to me over the years
  • Anyone who ever disrespected me by attacking me personally or challenging my ethics or character
  • Any company or organization, that I felt would limit my growth and potential
  • A private equity group who disparaged the country that I have built my businesses in
  • Family members who were not supportive or loving. Yes, I cancel family too as much as it pains me
  • People who cancelled me, unfairly, then tried to come back into my life
  • Any team member who quit without notice or otherwise left irresponsibly
  • Anyone who was overtly supportive of any public/political figure who espouses authoritarianism, racism, nationalism, xenophobia etc

People don’t change

People can grow and improve, but they can’t change their personality profile or core values. If the relationship you have with them is currently unsustainable, at a fundamental level, it won’t change. So stop kidding yourself, don’t wait and hit the cancel button

Why cancel?

The problem with unsustainable relationships is twofold.

One, they bring you down. Even if you yourself are trying to grow, these relationships will undermine your ability to do so. Even worse, they carry an opportunity cost by precluding you from forming relationships that could actually improve you (see next)

Second, they crowd out your ability to form new sustainable relationships and invest in existing ones. You only have a certain amount of time, and if that time is wasted in unsustainable relationships, it precludes you from ever improving your relationship profile. You will be stuck with a toxic combination of unsustainable relationships. Instead, cancel your unsustainable relationships and reclaim that time for people in your life, and even people you haven’t met yet, who will make you a happier and better person.

Don’t have any sustainable relationships yet? That is OK, they are out there. Free up some time and go find them. Your unsustainable relationships aren’t ever going to change, improve – so stop waiting for something that will never happen and cancel them, even if you don’t, currently, have anything to replace them with. I’ve always been an advocate that the devil unknown is better than the devil known.

Mistakes

I’ve cancelled some people in my life that I regretted. But they were very few and far between. For me, ultimately, I would rather make a few mistakes than allow my life to be negatively impacted by bad relationships. Most of my cancellations have been validated, over time.

People who cancelled me

I’ve been cancelled (at least implicitly), and in many cases rightfully so.

I think most of them fall into the category of people who I pushed to hard and/or too fast. I worked hard in the last 10 years to get better at managing people and my cancellation rate declined steadily during my career. But I still have regrets related to this, mostly going back to the earlier years in my career.

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Read everything three times

Having spent 20+ years working in the information business, I’ve noticed two distinct groups of people; those who can consistently, accurately process information and those who seem to constantly misread, misunderstand or otherwise fail to successfully consume information.

When you have 1-2 people who occasionally misread something, that can be a small annoyance. But when you have an organization, of scores or hundreds of people, skimming written correspondence and making decisions based on an incomplete or incorrect understanding of the message/intent, that leads to mistakes, miscommunication, wasted time and rework on a large scale

Why does it happen?

My theory it is people who get complacent (aka lazy) and rather than concentrating and taking the requisite time required to internalize a message, they simply fly through it

I also think people are over-confident in their reading comprehension and they consistently over-estimate their ability fully understand a message without missing anything. This tendency can easily be seen on social media, where people jump to respond to something they thought was said, when in reality it wasn’t.

Consequences

Left unchecked, this tendency can degrade internal communications. This is a particularly acute problem with customer facing team members, who wind up frustrating customers by asking unnecessary questions, misunderstanding problems and ignoring key questions.

Two taps

The Israeli intelligence services use a small caliber service pistol and train all of their assets to employ a double-tap approach when dispatching targets. Tap-tap. Because one tap is often not going to be enough, two-taps is essential for getting the job done.

Solution

The solution to processing emails is similar. I require that all new employees get in the habit of reading everything three times. Tap-tap-tap

  • One tap to get the basic gist of the message. This is helpful for quickly triaging your inbox
  • second tap to really dig in and understand the message fully. This means reading it in its entirety
  • third and final tap to make sure you didn’t miss anything. This is a critical step, as people are often surprised at how much they actually miss the first two times

Remediation

When I mentor people who consistently fail to adequately communicate, based on the fact they don’t understand instructions, directions, questions etc., we apply this system. When the problem invariably re-surfaces, I ask them if they have read the message three times. After they tell me “yes”, I ask them again and this time to tell me the truth. When we finally determine that they haven’t, we re-apply the expectations and repeat until improvements are realized.

I have never worked with anyone who didn’t improve decisively and on a sustained basis, when applying this simple system

My own approach

Although I’ve tested very high in English competency and reading comprehension, I apply this same rule myself. So yes, I generally read everything at least three times, and sometimes more, especially before replying. It may seem like a waste of time, but by eliminating miscommunication, false-starts and other problems, over the long haul there is a significant net saving in time

Other

In addition to reading messages 3x, I require all customer facing and relevant internal correspondence to be processed consistently and systematically, following these rules

All questions (or issues) need to be addressed separately. So if you get an email with 4 questions, you should have 4 distinct answers, not 3, not 2. Seems obvious, but 90% of the time, if a customer asks more than 2 questions, at least one is ignored. I’ve seen that time and time again.

All questions should be answered in-line. This makes it virtually impossible to forget to respond to a particular question embedded in an email, or otherwise ignore some part of a message. It also provides for systematic readability, so you can flow through the correspondence matching each answer directly with the question.

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Fucking up vs fucking down

I heard a phrase in the Army once that I have oft repeated

He can’t even fuck up right

But as trite and humorous as it is, there is a little wisdom behind that, as is often the case in military phrases, acronyms and jokes. Is there an incorrect way to fuck up? If so, conversely, is there a correct way to fuck up? It is an intriguing question and the answer is “yes” to both.

Fucking down

aka Fucking-up wrong

Most people don’t “Fuck up”, they actually “Fuck down”. This means they make a mistake but rather than learning from it they …

  • Make excuses or otherwise equivocate
  • Blame others
  • Attribute it to bad luck, external events or other unavoidable circumstances

In rare cases where they do accept responsibility, it is short-lived as they try to forget about the situation soon after it happens thus mitigating any ability to learn from, let alone benefit from the mistake.

By externalizing blame they miss an opportunity to understand the root-causes of the mistake, for example was it lack of attention to detail, insufficient effort, not following instructions etc. And by not analyzing the root causes, they will have no ability to correct/address them and prevent similar mistakes from happening in the process.

Also, externalizing blame prevents you from hearing, let alone internalizing feedback on the problem, which is meant to help you by correcting the behaviors or addressing the core issues that lead to the problem. Even worse, it can lead to resistance, resentment and even anger about getting feedback, no matter how constructive. If you truly don’t believe you have done anything wrong, any suggestion to the contrary can lead to such reactions.

If you match this profile, most likely you are fucking down. And the biggest problem with fucking down is that you are locked in a cycle of mistake > excuse that will endlessly repeat, until you start taking responsibility for your own actions and the consequences of those actions. I’ve known people who’ve lived their whole lives and never arrived at that level of understanding. It isn’t their fault. It is always “The man” who is out to get them. You know the type.

Worked example

You completed the sprint but, as the scrum master, you failed to send in the sprint retrospective for 3 full business days and only did, after you got a reminder.

As the product owner is reviewing the procedures for completing a sprint and detailing her expectations, in terms of deliverables, you fidget in your seat and all you can think about is what you are going to say next. You actually don’t hear a word she says let alone internalize the feedback.

You take advantage of a brief pause in the constructive criticism to interject and blurt out that it was only 3 days, not a full week (as if that has any relevance or meaning) and that you know another team turned one in even later (even though this is probably not even true). You turn it around by asking why you are being singled out, and in your mind, invent reasons why she has it out for you.

The product owner is able to complete the feedback session, despite the interruptions, and lays out expectations that you will adhere to requirements for sprint reporting from now on. When she asks for confirmation that you understand, ostensibly hoping you will even volunteer some contrition or even actions to correct the problems, you reply with “Well, nobody is perfect”.

Fucking up

aka Fucking-up right

Mistakes happen. Yes, you will fuck up. But it isn’t the end of the world, and in fact, learning from your mistakes is the fastest way to improve. And the more mistakes you make, if, indeed, you learn from them, the faster you will improve.

ARR

Fucking up “right” involves a 3 letter acronym ARR

This stands for …

Acknowledge the mistake, the feedback, the reality of the situation. By acknowledging feedback, this may simply be to sit there and listen, with an open mind, even if the topic and the delivery of the feedback isn’t positive.

Take Responsibility for the problem. Own it. Even if there we extenuating circumstances, even if it wasn’t all your fault, even if you don’t think it is totally fair – take responsibility.

Commit to Resolve the problem by changing your actions and behaviors to ensure that the situation won’t happen again, or at least not as badly

Worked example

A good example is some trouble I caused in high school. I was confronted by the teacher who had caught me red handed and threatened me with repercussions, if it continued

Acknowledge – I quietly listened to everything he said. I didn’t look down, roll my eyes, shake my head, cross my arms or otherwise try to invalidate what he was saying with my body language. Nor did I interrupt, try to interject.

Take responsibility – Internally, I took full responsibility. I didn’t equivocate (“Oh, it wasn’t so bad”, “Others were involved”). I didn’t make excuses (“Well, some friends were the ones who forced me to do it”). I knew I had done wrong and that even though others were involved, I was taking 100% of the responsibility for my actions

Commit to resolve – I committed to resolve the problem by saying “It won’t happen again. I guarantee it”. I didn’t say I would “try” to avoid trouble or that I “hoped” it wouldn’t happen again. I was in control of my actions and I was in control of the resolution. Committing means essentially making a guarantee that if you can’t control the results or the outcome, you can at least control the inputs, your behavior and actions. The things you do and the things you don’t do

ARR cheat sheet

To summarize the above, you can distill it down to some simple phrases

Acknowledge – I hear you. I get it

Take responsibility – I own this. It’s on me.

Commit to resolve – It won’t happen again. I’ll take concrete steps to avoid this in the future. I’ll make sure this isn’t repeated

Examples:

“I hear you. I own this. It won’t happen again”

“I get it. It’s on me. I’ll take concrete steps to avoid this in the future”

You can add:

“I would like to check back in a few weeks to make sure my corrective measures are sound, working etc.” 

“I really appreciate you taking the time to help me improve”

Saying “Sorry”

Where is the part where you apologize? It was left out on purpose. Apologies are words. They are meaningless. Worse, people feel that just by saying “Sorry” it is a proverbial get-out-of-jail-free card. And if the just throw out the word sorry, they can quickly get back to doing the same exact things that caused the problems in the first place, without consequences.

Only specific actions and a commitment to resolve the problem matters, along with hopefully the resulting improvement and lack of repeating the same mistake. Words like “Sorry” are useless, and can be even less than useless if they are meant to replace actual corrective steps

I always told people that unless they ran over my dog, they would never have to say “Sorry” in my company.

Summary

So the next time someone tells you “fucked up”, be grateful for the opportunity to learn and improve. Fuck up once and it is a teaching point. Fuck up a few times, and you will begin to learn, assuming you profit from those mistakes and don’t repeat them. Fuck up enough, and who knows you might even achieve success!

Abuot-us

The gift of never having to say “Sorry”

Business isn’t life. In life, you will have to apologize for your actions, if your transgressions warrant it. But most (1) mistakes in business are just that, mistakes. They weren’t intentional, they didn’t lead to grievous harm or loss of life, so they rarely rise to the level where an apology is required.

My response to people at work who say “sorry” is that unless they ran over my dog, they don’t have to say sorry.

Loser words

Furthermore, people have a nasty habit of using the word “Sorry” as a place-holder for truly Acknowledging the problem, taking Responsibility for it and Committing to resolve it, otherwise known as ARR. Many of these people think that by simply saying sorry, they can use that as a general purpose, get-out-of-jail free card that will at once absolve themselves of having to take responsibility let alone take steps to commit the mistake won’t happen in the future. The one thing I notice about people who reflexively say “sorry” a lot, is that they constantly make the same mistakes over and over. Using this rhetorical crutch, people immediately short circuit the process of introspection that is necessary to take responsibility and ultimately improve, grow and develop. I refer to this as “Fucking down” vs “Fucking up”

This is why I term the word “Sorry” a “loser word” and why it is prohibited from use by people who work in any of my organizations

If you want to work/live/act “as if” you are a professional, someone worth to be hired, promoted etc, it is important that you act “as if” you are that person now, which includes talking like one, not a loser. By taking responsibility for your actions vs just reflexively apologizing in a knee-jerk fashion, you will demonstrate that you are such a quality person. I wrote an article about a person who made more mistakes than you could ever imagine, but never apologized once and eventually met with success and was promoted.

Words vs actions

It seems counter intuitive, at least at first, that a manager, boss, leader wouldn’t accept someone saying “sorry” as a response to a mistake, and even less so that they would prohibit the person from apologizing in the first place, but if your goal is to actually change and improve, apologizing actually is counter-productive because it inhibits that positive progression.

I was broken of the habit of saying “sorry” in the military. The first time I apologized for a mistake I made was the last time, and I still have dreams (or perhaps nightmares) of the response to saying “sorry” during basic training. At first, I felt that the Drill Sergeant was being unfair, vindictive etc. Only later, did I begin to appreciate the gift that he had given me of never having to say “sorry”. No longer did I fall back on some word, that just by throwing it out would negate any mistakes and preclude you from having to take responsibility for them. I started to take ownership of my mistakes and my vernacular changed from “sorry” to …

  • It won’t happen again
  • Consider this resolved
  • I’ll commit to address this problem

Giving up on your immature addiction to reflexively using the word “sorry” is a gift you can give your self and a sign of professional maturity. By focusing on actions like Acknowledging, taking Responsibility and committing to Resolving the issue at hand vs just throwing words at it, you not only will diffuse the current situation but also make strides to ensure less of them will happen in the future.

 

 

(1) In some cases professional apologies are warranted, such as the disgraceful behavior of acting Naval secretary, Thomas Modly

0064

“I’ll try my best” and other phrases professionals never use

In this article title I lied, because I implied that there would be other phrases besides “I’ll try my best” that I would address here. To be honest, I did the best I could. So what’s the problem?

When people say they will do “their best”, it really annoys me. There is a lot packed into that little phrase, none of it is any good, and people who use it know this full well. They use it as a rhetorical tool to both lower expectations and wrest control from assessing outcomes of a task from yourself, the task owner, to themselves.

People will say “Don’t be such a hard-ass, they are simply trying to say the right thing”. My retort is that no, words have meanings and people know full well what this phrase means and they use it purposefully; the intent and use of this word is at best useless and at worst goal-misaligned and counterproductive. By using it, you convey to someone that you can’t really be relied on to accomplish tasks, nor are you even committed fully to that goal. This separates you from more mature professionals who never use this phrase (these are the same people you want to talk “as if” you were one of them, even if you haven’t quite made it yet)

Unknown

When you say “I’ll do my best” there is one, huge uncertainty there. What is your best? What if your best isn’t good enough? What if your best isn’t good at all? So if you need the report done by the end of the week or your team will all lose their jobs, would you rather have someone commit to getting it done or “do their best”. But by tacitly accepting the benchmark of “their best” you implicitly agree that even if the report doesn’t get produced and everyone loses their job, it is fine because the person did their best.

Judging ourselves

Another problem I have is that when people say they will work to their best, they are implicitly empowering themselves to set the benchmark for performance or in other words, internalizing it. We are never the personal arbiters of our own success, no matter how much we may strive to acquire that level of control over our personal brand. In reality, our success, or failure, will always be a grade given to us by others based on our accomplishments. Said in another way, success is externalized. Factors, people, arbiters other than yourself will determine your level of success.

In a work type situation, your success will be determined by your results, production, feedback, etc and ultimately aggregated and delivered to you by your superior. Whether you did your best, or worst, or anything in between is entirely immaterial. Trying to implicitly set a different standard, than direct feedback from your superior, is a classic example of goal misalignment. You need to embrace the fact that regardless of your effort, personal standards e.g. your best or any other concepts, that your success will be determined by someone else.

Lowering expectations

The biggest reason people use this is to lower expectations. So that ultimately, if the task is a failure, they can say “Oh well, I did my best” and by that lowered benchmark claim to salvage some sense of success from the loss. By validating that across the company, everyone could be promoted just because, by their own internal benchmarks, which is that they tried their best. Production could slow, revenue could decline, profit could disappear and share prices can collapse, but as long as everyone is doing their best, collectively we can all rest easy. That isn’t how business works.

Ultimately businesses succeed as a whole, based on the collective micro-successes of all individual stakeholders. Success, not some ethereal concept related to effort, must be expected and achieved. There is no other substitute.

Leadership disconnect

Leaders can’t go to shareholders or investors and say “I will do my best”. They would get laughed out of the room, immediately after being fired. That same sense of expectations, at the top, needs to be implemented at every level in the organization, all the way down to the lowest ranking employee. When employees are simply required to do their best, but an organization as a whole must be required to succeed, there is a fundamental disconnect. Both dualities can’t exist. To become goal-aligned, everyone in an organization must commit to the concept, at least, of meeting expectations and achieving results, even if, in reality, the expectations aren’t always met

 

This article is part of the “Loser-words” series

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Paragraphs and white space

I don’t know why but failure to properly space paragraphs is extremely prevalent among young writers. This is a problem I see all the time in written correspondence. It is not only structurally incorrect, which conveys to the audience that you lack a firm grasp of the constructs and form of the language, it degrades readability, making it harder for your audience to consume and understand your content.

The rules

When you write in English you need to utilize white space to denote the beginning of new paragraphs

Generally, this is either

a) Space between paragraphs (web, email)

or

b) Indentation at the beginning of a new paragraph, starting with the second paragraph (print). We won’t cover that here

… but never both

Paragraphs are designed to improve readability of your content by breaking it into logical, atomic blocks. If there is no visual indication of the paragraph, though, then it defeats the purpose. Also, dense text with no breaks is visually difficult to process and degrades readability

These rules should be followed with web content, e-books, written correspondence whether it be email, a memo or even social media; basically for everything you write.

Example (web, email)

A melody is heard, played upon a flute. It is small and fine, telling of grass and trees and the horizon. The curtain rises.

Before us is the salesman’s house. We are aware of towering, angular shapes behind it, surrounding it on all sides. Only the blue light of the sky falls upon the house and forestage; the surrounding area shows an angry glow of orange. As more light appears, we see a solid vault of apartment houses around the small, fragile-seeming home. An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality. The kitchen at center seems actual enough, for there is a kitchen table with three chairs, and a refrigerator. But no other fixtures are seen. At the back of the kitchen there is a draped entrance, which leads to the living-room. To the right of the kitchen, on a level raised two feet, is a bedroom furnished only with a brass bedstead and a straight chair. On a shelf over the bed a silver athletic trophy stands. A window opens on to the apartment house at the side.

Behind the kitchen, on a level raised six and a half feet, is the boys’ bedroom, at present barely visible. Two beds are dimly seen, and at the back of the room a dormer window. (This bedroom is above the unseen living-room.) At the left a stairway curves up to it from the kitchen.

The entire setting is wholly or, in some places, partially transparent. The roof-line of the house is one-dimensional; under and over it we see the apartment buildings. Before the house lies an apron, curving beyond the forestage into the orchestra. This forward area serves as the back yard as well as the locale of all Willy’s imaginings and of his city scenes. Whenever the action is in the present the actors observe the imaginary wall-lines, entering the house only through its door at the left. But in the scenes of the past these boundaries are broken, and characters enter or leave a room by stepping ‘‘through’’ a wall on to the forestage. (1)

Wrong

A melody is heard, played upon a flute. It is small and fine, telling of grass and trees and the horizon. The curtain rises.
Before us is the salesman’s house. We are aware of towering, angular shapes behind it, surrounding it on all sides. Only the blue light of the sky falls upon the house and forestage; the surrounding area shows an angry glow of orange. As more light appears, we see a solid vault of apartment houses around the small, fragile-seeming home. An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality. The kitchen at center seems actual enough, for there is a kitchen table with three chairs, and a refrigerator. But no other fixtures are seen. At the back of the kitchen there is a draped entrance, which leads to the living-room. To the right of the kitchen, on a level raised two feet, is a bedroom furnished only with a brass bedstead and a straight chair. On a shelf over the bed a silver athletic trophy stands. A window opens on to the apartment house at the side.
Behind the kitchen, on a level raised six and a half feet, is the boys’ bedroom, at present barely visible. Two beds are dimly seen, and at the back of the room a dormer window. (This bedroom is above the unseen living-room.) At the left a stairway curves up to it from the kitchen.
The entire setting is wholly or, in some places, partially transparent. The roof-line of the house is one-dimensional; under and over it we see the apartment buildings. Before the house lies an apron, curving beyond the forestage into the orchestra. This forward area serves as the back yard as well as the locale of all Willy’s imaginings and of his city scenes. Whenever the action is in the present the actors observe the imaginary wall-lines, entering the house only through its door at the left. But in the scenes of the past these boundaries are broken, and characters enter or leave a room by stepping ‘‘through’’ a wall on to the forestage.

(1) Death of a Salesman, A. Miller

IMG_20190205_113118-scaled

Email etiquette; salutations and valedictions

Salutation

What

It is a simple written indication, confirming the person you are emailing

For example:

Brian,

Why

When you use a salutation you convey a couple things:

  • You can communicate in a professional way and therefore, you are a professional
  • You can take the time to formally acknowledge the person you are emailing, or in other words, you are paying them respect, whether they are a superior, a peer or a subordinate
  • If you are writing an email to multiple recipients, you are clarifying/confirming who the main recipient is, if there is a main recipient. Yes, you may put this in the TO and others in the CC, but this simple gesture serves to make this clear
  • It serves to introduce the communication to avoid the appearance of being rude. For example, would you just walk up to someone on the street and immediately ask them directions? Or would you say, “Excuse me, Sir” or “Sorry to bother you” etc

When

A simple rule is always to include a salutation, in the first email in a thread

  • You should always include a salutation in your email
  • When you email a stranger, prospect, customer, potential employee etc for the first time
  • When you email anyone the second, third, … nth time
  • When you email your boss, a co-worker, a peer
  • When you communicate via social media. Just because it isn’t an email is no excuse to not communicate professionally

After the first email, in a particular thread, you are no longer obligated to repeat the salutation, although it can still be used, and I will often to continue to do this.

I have a simple method of dealing with emails without a salutation. If it from outside the company, and not a customer (or someone else I’m obligated to communicate with), I ignore it. If it is from inside the company, I reach out to the person and remind them how to communicate via email.

For my perspective, finding an email from me without a salutation would be very rare. I’ve sent 10’s, if not 100’s of thousands of emails and my guess is that 99.9% included a salutation. Of those, some of the emails were intended to convey a lack of respect, so the lack of salutation was purposeful.

How

Simple rule: First is best

In the US, using the subject’s first name, e.g. Brian, without “Dear” is preferred.

I would not recommend using “Mr” or “Ms” and the last name. In information technology such salutations are anachronistic.

The joke is “Mr. [name]” is my dad’s name.

Also, I don’t even know what the proper way to address a woman is because it depends on whether she is married. Is it “Miss”, “Ms”? Hell, if I know. You can avoid this problem with just using a first name

Is using a first name to informal? It isn’t for me, and I was in the military and I’m a stickler for respectful correspondence.

Note: Nobody uses “Sir” anymore in the US. I’m sorry. If you are referring to someone as Sir, you might fit in in 19th century England but here and now it is overly formal. I will immediately correct people in business who refer to me as “Sir” that they don’t have to do that (and that I would prefer if they didn’t). The old Army joke is “Don’t call me Sir. I work for a living”. I do understand that there are some cases, like customer service, on the phone, where this may be helpful and appropriate. 

Valediction

What

A simple farewell message i.e. Best, Sincerely, Warm regards etc at the end of your email

Why

Would you just hang up a phone, without saying “Good bye” to someone? No, of course not. So leaving out a valediction can come across as abrupt, rude

When

Always on the first email of a thread. I would leave it out on subsequent emails unless you have a sense that it will be the last in a thread

How

  • Sincerely
  • Best
  • Regards
  • Best regards
  • Kind regards

My favorite valediction is “Thanks”. You can’t really go wrong with that, in most cases

Tom,

Could you update me on the status of the meeting?

Thanks,

Brian

Note: Having an email signature is NOT a valediction, nor is it an excuse to not include one. But … if you are crafty and smart, you may build one into your signature, if it matches the font of your email perfectly, looking like you types it. I’ve seen many people try to do this and fail, so if you are going to do it, do it right or just type it out every time.

Objections

I hear objections from some people that this is unnecessary and inferred. I disagree. I notice any missing salutation and I take it as a sign of disrespect. If you want to risk eliciting that kind of reaction from the recipient of your communication, go ahead and roll the dice. But for the cost of a fraction of a second (see next) it is well worth it.

Another objection I hear is that it takes too long to type. My standard answer to that is to learn to type faster. In the age of the knowledge worker, not being able to type *extremely* fast is simply not an option.