Reader Question – Emailing Your Boss

How to write emails to your boss

Don’t try to impress with the length of your email. Most of the time they will appreciate a short and to the point message. If you need to explain something in more detail, consider listing the main points as bullets at the top and add the rest of your explanation at the bottom or as an attachment. This allows them to quickly grasp the issue without reading through several hundred words.

Another advantage of a short message is that it is more likely to get read. If your boss is busy, they may read a short email and leave longer ones to be read later.

You can help your boss prioritize your emails, by adding a short code in the subject. For example, anything you need to tell your boss just to keep them in the loop should have a subject starting with FYI:. You can create other prefixes based on whatever works best for you. By helping your boss categorize emails before even reading them you increase the chances that your important messages will get prompt attention.

Often the best thing to do is to sit down with your boss and ask how they prefer for you to communicate. Some bosses like status reports throughout the week via email. Others prefer to handle everything in a weekly meeting. Having this discussion with your boss shows that you value their time and work style and can lead to a much stronger working relationship.

It is also a good idea to figure out how many subjects to deal with in a single email. If your superior sorts emails into folders and then deals with them, you probably don’t want to write an email the covers 10 different topics. At the same time, your boss probably doesn’t want to come in Monday morning and find 20 short emails from you about various things. Usually it is a good idea to batch FYI type messages, but separate emails by topics for items that require your boss’ answer or action.

Comments

  1. says

    The chief of my organization hates to be bothered…which is why he has a Commander, three Lieutenants, four Sergeants, and two Corporals. On occasion I receive orders from him and have to respond personally and he definitely is not a micro-manager, so he likes short and to the point updates.

    Big tip though, if your boss is a micro-manager, they want all the nitty gritty and often tear apart your e-mails, and attack you if they are too short in my experience.

  2. says

    All great stuff, especially breaking down anticipated action items into one thought per email. Outlook, Gmail, many other email systems allow you to convert an email to a task and keeping one action item per email actually helps in this process. Asking the boss about email preferences is good as well — I worked for a guy who read most of his email on a treo screen and he was too busy to scroll down. Any eloquence past the first two sentences was usually lost… ;-)

  3. says

    Some bosses often ignore the attachment in the email. If information is minimum, try to include the information in the email message. Otherwise, highlight that there are more details information in the attachment. This is also to avoid any missing of attachment file as sometime the mail server may have filtered it.

  4. a boss says

    … and for Pete’s sake, don’t just keep hitting “reply” to respond if the email conversation changes to a new topic! It makes searching back a nightmare!

    For me the subject of the email was important. Ideally, if I ever need to search back through my emails, I want the subject to contain my search words. So ask yourself, if your boss has to find this email later, what words would s/he probably think to use as search words when looking for this email at a later date?

  5. imedia says

    i just found this site and love it. question, outside of emailing your boss, has there been any study in terms of lost productivity when your boss wants to switch from outlook to lotus notes? and data would help my case when i email my boss : ) . thank you in advance.

  6. Mark Shead says

    @imedia – Outlook and Lotus Notes aren’t equivalent programs as far as I know. Perhaps you mean switch from Exchange to Lotus Notes. I’ve worked with Exchange extensively, but as far as I know there isn’t big productivity difference between Exchange and Notes. It probably just depends on what you are familiar with.

    If there is a driving business reason for switching to Notes you actually may be far more productive in that environment than with Exchange. However, it sounds like a pretty big switch to make if there isn’t any business reason behind it. It is kind of like taking an existing house and deciding you want to put in a different type of foundation–you better have a very good reason to justify the expense.

  7. says

    Microsoft Exchange? Lotus Notes? Forget them both — upgrade to the premium version of Google Apps. For $50 per user per year, you can have more features than most end users can handle. Compare this against the outrageous cost of using either Exchange or Notes and you’ll see what I mean; there’s a great study you can Google up called “Microsoft Exchange 2003 Total Cost of Ownership” and it gives acquisition, maintenance and support dollars for both Exchange and Notes. Compare and you ‘ll see that Google Apps is the way to go. Google Apps is on the web at google.com/a…

  8. Mark Shead says

    @Todd – I’m guessing that imedia’s company needs to run some type of application that runs on Lotus Notes that would probably be difficult to port to Google Apps. I know there are some companies that have extensive approval and management systems that run on their messaging platforms.

  9. says

    So sorry. There was no indication of a business app [If there is a driving business reason for switching to Notes you actually may be far more productive in that environment than with Exchange. However, it sounds like a pretty big switch to make if there isn’t any business reason behind it. It is kind of like taking an existing house and deciding you want to put in a different type of foundation–you better have a very good reason to justify the expense.] My point was that those who are looking for email and collaboration apps would to well to consider the Google alternative…

  10. Mark Shead says

    @Todd – Oh I completely agree with you. imedia didn’t mention a business application. I’m just assuming her/his boss is rational and isn’t just trying to change for no business reason.

    Of course that might not be a valid assumption. :)

  11. says

    “FYI” = “I’m sending you this to Fill Your Inbox”…

    A great tip that I use is to write the email as I normally would (context, details, conclusions, actions) then copy and paste the conclusions or actions back to the top and reword as a “hook statement”, such as “We need to spend £25K upgrading the email server storage capacity, so I have outlined the reasons why below”

    My own bad habit used to be to construct an argument from background facts, options, pros and cons, then conclusions, in order to demonstrate that I had been through the mental hoops to get there in a reasoned fashion. This linear style lacks punch, whereas putting the actions right at the top gives the PHB a better idea of why the email matters.
    If the boss chooses to read on for the reasons or not, that is then his choice. I am quite happy for them to simply trust my judgement and reply “just do it”

  12. Mark Shead says

    @AdamV – This is a very good idea. Not only does it keep things concise for your boss, but it helps make sure you have kept things lucid.

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