15 Tricks to Appear Smart in Emails
My 15 favorite tricks for appearing smart in emails
Update: My book 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings comes out October 4th! Pre-order it here.
If you don’t care about appearing smart in emails, you can stop reading now.
Oh good, we’re alone.
In the corporate world, there is no ground more fertile for appearing smart than the rich earth that is electronic communication. Your email writing, sending and ignoring skills are just as important as your nodding skills, and even more important than your copying and pasting skills. Here are 15 email tricks that will make you appear smart, passionate, dedicated and most of all, smart.
1. Complain about how much email you get
Always complain about your email volume, but never be the first to say a specific number. I once complained because I had 200 unread emails and I was laughed out of the breakroom. Instead, find out how much email everyone else gets, and then double it. That’s how much email you get.
2. Use a “sent from my phone” signature that apologizes for typos
Use a “sent from my phone” signature, even when you’re not sending from your phone. This makes you look like you’re always busy and on the go, and also gets you out of proofreading.
3. When your manager responds to a thread, respond immediately after
It’s impossible to pay attention to every active thread all the time, but you must at least pay attention when your manager responds. Make sure you see the moment he responds, and then respond immediately with “Totally agree,” “Definitely,” or “Took the words right out of my mouth.”
4. Be the first to congratulate
Feature launched? Respond: W00t way to go! Baby on the way? Respond: Mazel tov! Peanut brittle on Brian’s desk? Respond: This is delicious! Whenever something good happens, always be the first to respond and always reply all. This will make you seem like a highly engaged team player.
In addition, when you constantly point out how awesome everyone’s doing, you leave them feeling great and ignoring the fact that you haven’t done any real work in over a year.
5. Share random thoughts at odd hours
Create a caché of short, random thoughts that you can auto-send in the middle of the night. These could be:
- a question about the status of a project
- a thought you have about organizational structure
- a ridiculous feature request
- a link to an “interesting” article
- an “interesting” tidbit about a competitor (something we should all be “paying attention to”)
Whatever it is, you’ll have folks wagging their tongues about how dedicated you are to be thinking about the company at 3am.
6. Put some [Information] in the subject
Your subject line isn’t complete without some clarifying information contained in brackets. Some good ones to use:
Subject: [Update] Latest update
Subject: [Confidential] Please don’t share
Subject: [WE DID IT] We did it!
7. Send vague but frequent status updates
“Just a quick update on how things are going…”
Start every other email with this snippet and you’ll immediately impress your colleagues. They probably won’t read much past this, so feel free to follow it with a meaningless data point on this month’s returning users or the new engineer that’s joining the team in 4 months.
8. Send very specific details on your whereabouts throughout the day
Going to the airport? It’s important to let everyone know when you’ll be in a cab, on the train, going through security, at the gate, on the plane, at baggage claim, in another cab, and back at the office — as well as the minute to minute status of your Internet access every step of the way.
9. Start every email with TL;DR
Start every email with a bullet point summary, labeled “TL;DR” (Too long; don’t read). In it, summarize the main points of your email, using bold and italic formatting. The rest of the email can be a mistake-laden mess because it’s very long and most likely no one will read it.
10. Slightly alienate your audience
Start every email with, “If you don’t care about [something you should care about], stop reading now.” Do this even for short emails. Some variations on this include:
- If you don’t care about the future of this company, stop reading now…
- If you know all there is to know about quantum physics, stop reading now…
- If you’re not curious where I’ll be for the next hour, stop reading now…
11. Use clever abbreviations
LGTM, SGTM, FWIW, AFAIK, CIL. Use them all. Find more here.
12. Be the first to suggest a meeting
When a thread gets past 25 replies, a contest of efficiency has begun and the first person to suggest a meeting is the winner. Be that winner. Suggest that meeting. Use abbreviation: F2F
13. Send a “friendly ping”
Send a “friendly reminder,” “friendly follow-up,” or “friendly ping,” to old, outdated threads that everyone forgot about months ago. This will make it seem like nothing gets past you.
14. Wait a week before responding to direct requests, then ask if it’s still needed
Never respond to direct requests right away. If your help is truly needed, that person will find you, but most likely he’ll just ask someone else. After 7 days has passed, respond with, “This got buried, still needed?”
15. Use an overly complex Out of Office auto-responder
If you’re unable to respond to email for even just a day, create an Out of Office auto-responder that includes several people to get in touch with for each of your projects. For extra points, create an entire document that details everything you’re working on and who to contact during your absence. Nothing you do will ever make you appear more smarter.