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Insights on Your Inbox: 1-Word E-mails from Your Boss


“Many employees labor over emails seeking guidance from the boss, only to receive a cryptic reply such as ‘Great!’ or ‘Sounds good’—or no answer at all. The result: Confusion and frustration,” according to Sue Shellenbarger in her article, “Email Enigma: When the Boss’s Reply Is Cryptic,” in The Wall Street Journal. For those of you feeling that confusion or frustration, read on. The article includes anecdotes about bosses and their employees who effectively maneuver this tricky dynamic.

In addition to the quips I offer, several boss-employee pairs, including my client Bryan Janeckzo, founder and chief executive of Wicked Start Consulting, and his director of operations, Bill Littman, share their success stories. Janeczko, an extrovert, describes what he’s learned about communicating by email with Littman, an introvert. The article also describes how Cheryl Cofield, director of culture, diversity and inclusion, and her boss, Pearl Alexander, senior director for people strategies (also colleagues of mine) at the Georgia Institute of Technology, adjusted their approach to email to work better with one another’s personal styles.

Also on point is Jack Appleman, author of 10 Steps to Successful Business Writing, who stresses the importance of changing your subject line to reflect the topic of your email; coincidentally, his book is required reading for a graduate course I teach on business writing and presentation skills at New York University.

Check out Shellenbarger’s article for a welcome dose of insights to interpret your inbox. As she puts it, “Understanding your communication style—and those of your co-workers—can help avert miscues.”

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