The ‘two email rule’
When i think back to the deepest of the many deep holes i’ve dug myself in to over the years, they almost all start with an email.
When working through my inbox, it’s all too easy to just bash out a reply and hit send. Usually, that’s fine – a quick email is all it takes, and the issue is closed. But sometimes, that email triggers a reply, and that reply another, and it’s hard to predict when but eventually I’m having a complex conversation about a complex issue and it all goes wrong and before I know it, we’re at loggerheads and 37 people on the CC list think I’m a jerk.
Email is a low bandwidth communication channel. And this means that it’s hard to get across what we mean without misunderstanding. In an email, no one can tell if you’re smiling. You can’t acknowledge a change of mind, or moderate your language when you detect frustration on the other end.
And that’s why I have the “two email rule”. Whenever I find myself reading or writing a third email on a topic, I know I need to escalate to bandwidth. Obviously, in distributed teams, or during lockdown, this is hard. But it’s necessary.
So if I suddenly stop responding to your email, it’s not because I don’t care, it’s because I want to properly discuss this with you.