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Do you know what your email trash says about you?

Just as anthropologists who pick through garbage cans gain enormous insight about the people who toss the stuff – “trash tells the truth” – I also learn the truth about the health of organizations when I look through their email trash. My most common “anthropological” find? Emails trashed unopened and unread.

Organizations are drowning – not so much in email overload – but in political overload. And I’m not talking elephant or donkey. I’m talking political, as in when everyone, and her sister, needs or gets a copy, CYA is the norm, and managers micromanage through email or avoid conversations and choose email. That’s when I know that email isn’t the problem harming productivity, leadership is.

Here are clues:

  • You send an email with an action request or deadline, but receive no response. And lack of responsiveness is pretty much the norm.
  • You have to send multiple emails to get a response. And no one is held accountable.
  • You write (or receive) blunt emails written. And no one suffers consequences.
  • You find yourself copying people who really have nothing to do with the issue, but you’re scared not to. And either no one, or everyone, cares.
  • You get copied on stuff that you could care less about. And it continues.

The cure?

  • Set the example. Fish stink at the head first. Ask them for email etiquette and productivity training. And don’t let them think they’re above training; good leaders always participate in training.
  • When you’re copied on something that doesn’t impact you directly, pick up the phone to ask why you were copied. If there is no reason, ask to be taken off the copy list.
  • Don’t copy everyone just because you can.
  • Stamp out Reply to All messages. Be thoughtful instead.

Do you work with Email Control Freaks? What do you do to manage them?

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