Active Reading: The Active Listening of Email (Part 2 of 2)

This post was written by Hannah Morris, Director of Assessment & Advancement at The Latimer Group.

In Part 1 of this series, we equated the importance of active reading to the importance of active listening in our communication skillset. When we are taking in someone else’s communication – whether written or verbal, we not only have an important impact on their feelings and mindset, but also on the course and outcome of the conversation. And we have opportunities to learn. We can learn about our audience, our situation, our topic, and ourselves, and those opportunities are critical to constantly increasing our awareness.

Now, we cannot actively read every message we receive, just like we cannot actively listen all day long. But if we have a better process to manage our use of email, as a medium, we will create more room to focus on what matters and sharpen our reading skillset.

These simple suggestions can improve your email management so that you can apply more time and focus to active reading:

  • Schedule time to read email and time to turn it off (if your role allows). This will enable you to work more productively on other activities, show up to participate more actively in meetings, and make the time you do spend on email more intentional. If you plan to leave it off for more than a couple hours during a workday, consider providing an “out-of-office” message.
  • When you open your inbox, start by deleting or moving everything that you do not need. For some of us, this is easy. We can weed through the non-essential messages without even opening them. For those who use folders, we can move the non-essential to the appropriate repository for later reference. Clearing out what is not necessary will help us focus on what is.
  • Then follow the “Two-minute Rule”. If you can answer an email in under two minutes, do so right away. If you cannot, flag it or start a draft and set aside time to return to it later. If the sender needs an immediate response, send a line to say that you have received it and will respond by a certain time and date.
  • Use the tools available in your mail program – folders, subfolders, flags, checks, etc. There are no perfect rules for this; it should match your personal style and needs. The more consistent you are in your use, the more quickly your new behaviors will become habit and will require less thought and effort.

By managing your email flow in this way, you can pay greater attention to the messages that require real care and thought. You can glean more from what you read, and you can craft more effective responses.

Taking that a step further, in reading others’ emails more carefully and responding more thoughtfully, you start to build something important. You build a mutual understanding, a respect, and even a quid pro quo by which each party feels more inclined and obliged to actively read the other’s missives.

As you build these behaviors into habits, the repetition will earn you a positive reputation for thoughtful and thorough communication. This can extend far beyond individual relationships and have lasting impact on career success, satisfaction, and trajectory.

We believe that great communication skills change the world. We transform people and organizations of all sizes with simple, repeatable techniques, through an integrated platform of corporate training, coaching, and asynchronous learning.

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Hannah Morris

A book about change

The Latimer Corporation’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.