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A Magic Tale of Email

A manager was working late last night, slogging through the last of her email, when she noticed a strange lamp on the bookshelf. She picked it up. Since the lamp was dusty, she rubbed it with a cloth she kept in her desk drawer.

As normally happens when a strange lamp is rubbed, a genie appeared. The genie told the manager that he would grant her three wishes.

Glancing at her computer screen, she knew immediately what she wanted. She said, “For my first wish, I wish all the people who send me email would be clear about what they want me to do–that is, about what response or action they expect from me.”

The genie gulped. This was no normal wish. But because he was committed to serving his clients, he tried with all his might. Then he responded slowly, “Your wish has been granted. All the email you receive will include that information.”

“For my second wish,” the manager said, “I want everyone writing email to me to organize the content in logical chunks: short paragraphs, bullet points, numbered steps, and useful links.” 

Again the genie gulped. This was a very demanding client. But he took a deep breath, concentrated very hard, and said, “Your wish has been granted. The email you receive will be written with all those things you call ‘logical chunks.'”

The manager was elated and inspired. “For my third wish,” she said, “I want all my email to be easy to read from beginning to end–with a specific subject line, crisp sentences, and clear language that I always understand.”

The genie paled. He reasoned with her: “Are you sure you would not rather have a new hybrid car or maybe a trip to Italy? Just the other day, someone asked for a–”

The manager cut him off. “I know what I want,” she said. “If you grant me this third wish, along with the other two,” she added,” I will be able to leave work on time every day. I will also be significantly more productive and a lot more satisfied in my job.”

The genie began to see her point. And with all the magic power he could muster, he focused on making her third wish come true. “Your third wish has been granted,” he said. Then he wiped his brow and disappeared, the strange lamp teetering on the desk.

The manager smiled, shut down her computer, and went home. She slept soundly and dreamed of . . . today.

Could it have been your manager, customer, or client whose three wishes were granted last night? Or maybe it was a client of mine? We’ll never know. But because I believe in wishes coming true, and because I’m not completely confident that genies know much about email, I’m going to do my part to help him–and her.

Join me. Let’s commit to writing the best, most effective email we can. Just think: It’s someone’s wish come true.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

One comment on “A Magic Tale of Email”

  • That was awesome. I can honestly say I’ve never heard that story before; you just come up with it on the spot?

    I always try to write clear emails, though I suppose I could do it better. I just wish other people cared about their emails enough to at least double check them for bizarre typos.


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