It’s easy to forget that not all emails are alike.
In the constant swirl of messages that we read, write and respond to every day, we often overlook the importance of email style vis-à-vis the recipient. Take the example of emailing senior managers. Addressing a higher-up in another company, or even the boss in your own organization, demands more formality than you might use with co-workers. It’s also important to avoid anything that may cast a negative light on you as an employee.
Of course if you are a senior manager emailing someone at the same level, a little less decorum is needed. For all other cases, however, we have created guidelines for what to include and what to leave out of your emails to senior managers.
Identify Yourself and Any Connections
If you are writing an email to a senior manager in another organization, or internally to a manager who does not know you, start by explaining who you are and, where applicable, your mutual connection. This quickly provides context and encourages the manager to continue reading.
Keep Messages Short and Focused
Always remember that the point of an email is to exchange information in a concise way that saves both parties time. Emails should be brief and focused on one subject only. They should clearly state what is expected of the recipient, if anything. Don’t overcommunicate!
If the email needs to be longer than 3-4 short paragraphs, you should probably set up a face-to-face meeting to discuss the matter instead.
Make Your Emails Easy to Answer
Senior managers are busy. They’re much more likely to respond to emails that are easy to answer. According to a recent, large-scale study in the U.S., users who receive over 100 emails a day — as many senior managers do — respond to only about 5 percent of them.* So, craft mails with this in mind.
If you are requesting a meeting, suggest time frames rather than leaving it open, as in “when you have availability.” If you are asking a manager to take action, point out how. Better yet, have response options ready for them to choose from.
Proceed with caution when airing complaints and negative feelings in mails, especially when emailing senior managers. Being seen as malicious or naysaying by the management team can hurt your professional future in a company and even outside it.
Naturally there are times when you need to criticize in an email. But do so constructively by sticking to the facts and by finding fault with actions, not people.
As a rule, if you would be uncomfortable with a broader audience (especially a supervisor) reading something in your email, leave it out, and take the grievance offline in the form of a personal meeting.
Use the Right Sign-Off
Depending on your company culture, you should properly sign off your email to a senior manager. For managers you do not know or barely know, the more formal “Yours sincerely,”, “Respectfully,” or “With kind regards,” work perfectly. In less formal settings, “Best,” “Regards,” or “Yours,” will do.
Sign with your full name if you do not know the senior manager well, and include your job title under your name. Avoid GIFs, photos, or quotations in your sign-off.
Business-related emails are not personal ones, but they nevertheless reflect who you are. Your goal when emailing senior managers is to convey that you are a competent, trustworthy professional. Aim for brief emails that directly communicate information on one topic while clearly requesting any follow-up action. This establishes confidence and ultimately builds a better working relationship between you and your manager.
Kate Rodriguez is a freelance marketing copywriter based in Munich. She has over 20 years of professional experience in public and private organizations. A former international trade analyst for the U.S. government, she also worked as a university career coach, specializing in international career search. Most recently, she was employed at Experteer as a customer service agent and online marketing manager.