Email: First Answer the Question

Analyzing past miscommunications I see that one of the most common causes of failure is when the original thread-starting question contains a well defined question but that question is not answered, or at least not answered in a satisfying way.

Sometimes the respondent somehow misses the question, perhaps by reading the message too quickly on their phone.  There is one simple way to avoid this problem. When you receive an email that contains questions mark each distinct question then check that your answer provides an actual answer to each of them. Don't rely on memory; go back and check what they wrote.

Quite often the respondent does attempt to reply but they don't actually answer the question, simply adding more information or commentary. You can catch this mistake by asking yourself if the reply is really a direct answer to the question. So, for example, someone asks what is the topic of your speech you should respond something like "My speech is about the impact of social factors on the acceptance of innovations", not "It will be very popular. People have always said they liked it."

Other times the respondent has seen the question and answered it, but before the answer they have added a large block of additional information so the answer is hard to see, especially on the screen of a smart phone. The way to avoid this problem is simply to give the answer first, other comments later. Ideally in any email the key information should be in the first few lines anyway, so that it can be seen in preview views without scrolling.

Failure to answer questions effectively slows communication to a snail crawl because the sender of the original message has to ask again, wasting their time and yours. It can also happen that there is no time for an additional round of messages so you might simply miss an opportunity when this happens. At the very least you will underwhelm the person who asked the question; who will then be very tempted to avoid asking you again.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For information about the lectures, interactive workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about email and other communication topics contact Andrew Hennigan on or 0046 73 089 44 75.


Popular posts from this blog

Dear Best Regards: How to Start and End Your Emails

Reverting to Emails: Confusion and the Indian English Language

TED’s Magical Red Carpet