You can see it coming from a mile away. A co-worker sends an email to a dozen people with an open-ended question that doesn’t have any real consequences on anyone’s life. And that snowballs into two responses, which turns into three more replies, and so on.
And of course, rarely do any of those emails actually resolve anything. Even though you know that sometimes inbox zero is a mere fantasy, this never-ending chain makes you want to throw your laptop against the wall.
How do you stop the madness? And how do you do it without being a jerk? I’ve asked myself (and anyone else who will listen to me) these questions for years, and I’ve mostly come up empty-handed.
But in the midst of a recent email chain, I thought I’d try something. And it’s going to sound silly, but much to my surprise, it ended up working.
I was honest with the group about how lost I was starting to feel.
Now, I didn’t come down on anyone for clogging up my inbox. In fact, I used a lot of “I” statements. (You know, statements along the lines of: “I’m a little confused.” “I’m not sure how to move forward.” “I’m not sure if I’d like the grilled chicken or cheeseburger for lunch.”) This approach has always served me well, and I was relieved that the never-ending email chain was no exception.
I won’t lie—that first email took me a while to write. But it doesn’t have to take you as long because I created a template for you:
I don’t want to derail the conversation, but I’m feeling a little lost about our next steps. To recap, we’ve discussed:
- [Insert Talking Point 1]
- [Insert Talking Point 2]
- [Insert Talking Point 3]
Would it be possible to get together at some point to discuss and finalize the details? I’d be happy to find the time on our calendars so we can get on the same page.
Yes, sending this message might seem scary at first. You might be afraid of making everyone mad and ruining the “momentum” they’ve built in the email chain. But how many times has anyone actually gotten things done this way?
If you and your teammates were honest with yourselves, you’d probably say “rarely, if ever.” And that’s OK. It’s also OK that you want to take things offline.
Give this a shot and see what happens.
Already tried it? Did it work? Think this whole thing is absurd? Let me know how it went on Twitter @Rich_Moy.
Photo of person thinking courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy or follow his blog.More from this Author