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How to Read Email: Backwards

Lena wrote asking for an email tip to share with her boss. Here is her concern:

My boss, who travels frequently, responds to his emails in chronological order (earliest to most recent). Therefore, he often provides advice and gives orders on matters that have been resolved long before he enters the email conversation. This can be awkward at best, if his advice or instructions (copied to any number of clients and coworkers) contradict how we, his employees, handled time-sensitive issues that could not wait for his input.

I believe the solution is to group all emails in the string and read the most recent one to get an overview before entering the discussion. Do you agree?

Yes! I agree with Lena’s suggestion. Grouping the emails and reading the most recent first makes sense. Kathy Frederick, who writes The Junk Drawer blog, shared a tip about sorting by thread here recently.

Instead of sorting his email by date and time, Lena’s boss should sort by thread. To sort this way in Outlook, click View, Arrange By, and Conversation.

The boss’s email reading habit frustrates his staff. But it must also annoy him when he has taken the time to respond to an issue, only to read minutes later that his staff has already handled it.

If you are Lena (not her real name) or anyone else whose boss’s email habits are getting in the way of his, her, or your efficiency, share this post. Then talk about how you can get your jobs done more effectively by changing some of your communication and delegation habits.

Good luck!

Syntax Training 


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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.