Guest Columns

Make a resolution to use email better

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Sharon Johnson
Sharon Johnson

As we head into 2018, pledge to make a resolution: Less email.

We are inundated with email, much of it unnecessary. We all have been irritated by a tone we misunderstood, an insult we read into an email, or a cc: list that seemed to include the world, as well as our boss, unnecessarily.

  • If a conversation requires more than two emails, pick up the phone or set up a meeting. Email back-and-forth is frustrating, and the longer it goes on, the more opportunity for misunderstanding. We can't hear someone's voice, see their body language, ask a clarifying question in the moment.

  • It's just work — assume good intent. Feelings abound after emails gone awry. Some people write novels (please don't!) and some people respond with too few words to understand what they mean. 

    It's about information sharing and problem solving, not about a game of Survivor and who will be voted off the island.

  • The “to” line is for the the person you need to give information to, get information from, or problem-solve with. 

  • The “cc” line is for people who should know the information, but are not expected to/need to reply.

    Be careful of using the cc: line for everyone and/or using it in a way that can be seen as one-upmanship. For example, cc'ing someone's boss consistently can indicate you don't expect the person to answer you or respond.

  • If you include multiple people in a “to” line, then bold the name of the person you are requesting a response from. This is so everyone doesn't feel pressured to respond, if not needed.

  • The “bcc” line should be used very sparingly. Ask why this person needs to be invisible. Someone can reply from a “bcc” to everyone else on the email and become unexpectedly visible and create confusion.

  • Reply all: Use very, very sparingly. 

  • Think hard about unnecessary replies that are clutter. There is no need to reply all with, “Thanks," “See ya later” or “Have a great day!” Even on an individual level, ask whether an extra email is necessary. 

  • DON'T SHOUT!!!!  All caps and explanation points and fancy colors and too many emoticons ☹  can feel like you are yelling. ☹  SO YOU have a GRRREAT personality!  Put on your business suit for email in the workplace.

  • Think about SBAR.  Situation, background, assessment, recommendation. Apply it to email. In other words, think bullet points, not novels.

  • Sharon A. Johnson, MA, LNHA, is a consultant with Privot: Health Care Transitions. She can be reached at


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